Wipeout 2048 Review: Leads the pack of PS Vita racers
13th Feb 2012 | 14:00
You're Sony. You've just designed the most powerful handheld console in existence, and now you need a game to show it off. What do you pick? Uncharted: Golden Abyss? It's a looker, sure, but what if Drake's portable adventure makes the hardware stutter? That's not going to make for a good demo. How about Reality Fighters, then? Well, it demonstrates new control schemes nicely - but as a game?
Step forward Wipeout 2048. See, Wipeout games never look bad. It's a series historically used to reveal the true power of Sony. In 1995 its geometric craft looked almost otherworldly, and subsequent sequels did their platforms proud. You never know the power of your platform until you run a racer.
So, if you want jaws to drop and emerald-green jealously to drip from the slack jaws of your friends, get a PS Vita and get Wipeout 2048. Of course, only let them play it with their eyes, not their hands, lest they see the game itself hasn't changed in 17 years. It's you in a hovering vehicle racing hundreds of miles an hour, trading weapon shots along the way. In Wipeout lore it's the future of motorsport without the motors, and trades on realism in the way F-Zero and Extreme G doesn't.
2048 introduces you to its first three turbulent years, and is a prequel of sorts. A killer CGI opening set to DJ Fresh's Louder shows the evolution of the sport, from wheels to anti-gravity thrusters, and roots the series in the real world. It gives the game impact and authenticity.
The veracity continues across tracks ranging from sprints through Central Park and Times Square, to trips over the Brooklyn Bridge and aerodynamic, transparent motorways, and gleaming cityscapes. 2048's believable, near-future setting has always been a hook, and it's a joy to see worlds of today rendered like worlds of tomorrow, even if it is restricted to New York.
But it is impressive. Mass Effect-style horizontal lens flare peeks through buildings, and exhausts blow their own heat blur. The screen is packed with detail to an almost distracting degree. Colourful crowds cheering from stands, neon advertisements, and eight shiny racers reveal the PS Vita as a powerful piece of kit. And your post-match photo, a series tradition, shows off craft in all their angular glory.
Racing itself is pure Wipeout. Vehicles control like future bikes - turn one way and your back end will slant the other while your weight shifts - and the speed is still white-knuckle. It's virtually impossible not to cannon off the sides of each track like a Jamaican bobsled team, but there's satisfaction to be had upon learning the turns, speed pad spots and hidden shortcuts.
Braking helps too. Pressing Square tightens your turning, or you could hold off the gas altogether by letting off the right trigger. The traditional controls are reliable, with no incentive to select touchscreen and gyro controls besides curiosity - although sometimes firing a weapon with X will switch your view, seeing as though it's too easy to accidentally hit the thumbstick.
Like the controls, modes mix old and new. There's LAN multiplayer besides cross-play with Wipeout HD owners, and a campaign where you'll spend most of your time. Combat events ask you to reach a score requirement by damaging opponents, and time trials and straight races are just that: a mode pitting eight vehicles against each other. Sometimes they're pure tests of skill, and sometimes they're a tad more dangerous.
This is where it gets less F1 and more F-Zero. Why out-speed when you could out-gun? Plasma is a charged projectile good for clearing a pack, Missiles are this game's Red Shell, Rockets fire in threes but lack lock-on, the Cannon is good for spraying at anything ahead, and Quake warps the track, damaging others like Mario Kart Lightning.
There are defensive weapons too: a Shield and Turbo, as well as a vampiric Leech Beam which drains an opponent's energy, and Autopilot that takes you on the optimum route around the track at high speeds. This layering of mechanics adds pleasing variety to races.
Combat events are also deceptively deep. Rather than racing, you damage and destroy others to reach a set score. You can use both offensive and defensive weapons, or absorb either to recharge your shield - useful when each death sets your points total back. There's a real nerdy pleasure in peppering the front runner with bullets and watching red numbers rise from his ship, MMO-style.
But it's not just racing with weapons or without. Zone Events start out simple enough. It's you, alone on a track, with your one goal: don't die. This is made difficult when your speed constantly increases until it's physically impossible to keep on the track - Canabalt in a hover craft.
Prototype Ship Challenges are even more novel. There are five bonus ships hidden in the game, and you'll get the chance to win them. Their five challenge races are unlocked after each 10 ranks, tricky to complete as they are to even find. Icons are hidden on the menu screen, and you'll have to touch around to find them. Add to that four tiers of racing - C, B, A and the ultra-fast A+ - and you've got a game stuffed with content.
Of course, you'll need to select the right ship for the job. There are three classes: Fighter, Agility and Speed. Fighters have superior health and firepower, Speed boasts the best handling and, er, speed, and Agility are a mix of the two. Like popular real world motorsports, ships are split into manufacturer, and each fictional team has five ships apiece. Not a lot, but truthfully there's not much handling difference between ships of the same class, so more would be pointless.
There's also little variety between crafts visually. Why not give us a ship creator with parts for cockpits and wings, or even options for painting and decal application? You'll have to settle for rotating the ship in the menu screen using the touch pad. (Which is, admittedly, quite cool.)
HOC AND AWE
So, ModNation this is not. There's little customisation, of ships, of races and of courses, but for competitive play the game has you covered. You can play ad-hoc with players in the near vicinity, or cross-platform with gamers on the PS3's Wipeout HD (a series first). But most intriguing is the new online campaign. Progression is made not through completing races, but objectives. Complete them on any track and in any event to unlock all 20 multiplayer races - but you'll need a minimum of four players to do so.
With 2048, Sony seem keen to make it a Wipeout world. Menu screens integrate global and friend leaderboards, and community news feeds borrowed from Hot Pursuit display while races load (flicking a finger through the typically clean, ultra-sleek menus is nice and responsive, too). The news feed presents other players' ranks, but you might want to concentrate on your own. It's key to unlocking new races, craft, and Prototype Events.
And stats are useful for when you're not sitting with a pen and paper, recording progress in almost OCD detail. Like the menus they're mathematical and precise: from your use of weapons the game will calculate your offensive and defensive tendencies in percentages, as well as the amount of Speed Pads you go over per second.
It's window dressing - but, like the game as a whole, you can't fail to be impressed by it.