SONY PSP REVIEW: WIPEOUT: PURE

It's the game that got away. WipEout was once the darling of the digital gaming world, developed by talented UK developers Psygnosis which originally debuted on Sony's upstart console the PlayStation. Gamers raised on the NES, SNES and Genesis couldn't get enough of this new machine and the veritable buffet of innovative new ideas that it brought along for the ride. Racing fans were still realing from the blistering speed and amazing graphics set forth by Namco's Ridge Racer, one of the launch titles of the new system and the arrival of WipEout was the knockout punch to the SNES, 3DO, Jaguar, Sega Saturn and any other contender that was involved in the console wars back in 95.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the next generation. Games like WipEout and Twisted Metal became shells of their former selves and after a few lackluster sequels on the PlayStation, the franchises fell into disarray. In fact, WipEout which was one of Sony's flagship titles eventually fell into the hands of other publishers like Bam and Sony was only too happy to distance itself from the product it seemed. Until now that is....

WipEout Pure marks the return of the series in the backpocket of Sony and let's face it; they're hoping that lightning will strike twice ten years later. While I already mentioned in the preview below that this won't be happening, I'm pleased (and a little surprised to be honest) to report that WipEout Pure is one darn fine racer and not only is it one of the best in the series, but it's one of the best launch titles for the PSP. But the only caveat is that you must first be a WipEout sympathizer first and foremost. If you never cared for the game in the past, don't expect Pure to erase your reasons for disliking the series in the first place. There is definitely gaming history here.

The appeal of WipEout has always been the the tight responsive control, futuristic tracks, cool physics and innovative techno tunes that practically launched a musical genre on its own. All of these elements are present and accounted for in Pure and actually go above and beyond what I was anticipating.

While the fundamental structure of Pure is reminiscent of previous games, a welcome addition of strategy has been added to the mechanics providing a slightly deeper racing experience. In the past, energy pads were strategically placed on the tracks for the sole purpose of recharging your hovercrafts energy shields - which are depleted by crashing into barriers, other crafts etc - until you eventually run out of juice and explode. In Pure, you can siphon the energy from the randomly scattered powerup pads which provide weapons and other defensive/offensive measures so that you'll have have to make decisions based on whether you need the energy, weapon, boost or shield. If you're an accomplished WipEout racer, bumping into the barriers won't be much of a problem for you, at least on the lower classes of racing (Vector). However later on, I don't care if you've been playing WipEout everyday since it debuted in 95, you're going to be challenged on the mightiest of the 5 classes. Oh yeah. So trust me when I say you'll learn to quickly appreciate the new addition to the classic gameplay and it will save your ass on occasions too numerous to count.

Visually I'm not sure there is a hotter looking game on Sony's funky little handheld. While the backgrounds are still somewhat sparse to allow for the blisteringly fast racers which allow up to 8 players at a time (CPU or wi-fi players), the tracks are beautifully detailed enough to provide that utter sense of futurama (for lack of a better term). Pure is definitely the successor to WipEout XL on the PS2 and in fact, takes place 100 years into the future so fans of that game will notice the symiotic connection between the two products.

Playing WipEout Pure on the PSP is a dream come true. If you remember what seems like a lifetime ago, holding the original GameBoy in your hand back in the late 80's and marvelling at the device, you'll be freaking at the extravaganza of sights and sounds that the PSP pumps out on its pixel pushing widescreen. If you don't feel that you're holding the future of handhelds in your mitts when playing Pure, then you're a jaded old fuddy duddy. The whole package is a little overwhelming. The sleek lines of the PSP, the drop dead gorgeous visuals and the control.....ah, the control. While the analog stick placement is a little low for my liking, once you get used to it - and I mean, entirely for every game - the PSP handles like a Dual Shock with a screen.

To conquer WipEout Pure is to focus your memory of the tracks perfectly together with your catlike reflexes. You'll need to know every kink, every curve, every corner to slow down into, every apex to zoom out of. Unlike traditional racers featuring digital representations of realworld vehicles, understanding that the handling a hovercraft is a whole other monkey is the prerequisite for winning. The propulsion system of your craft is generated entirely from the rear, which means you'll need to compensate for that when steering or taking corners.

One fly in the ointment and it's a big one, is Pure doesn't allow for online play like Twisted Metal: Head On or Sony's sports titles and that's a crying shame. You can connect and play friends over wi-fi, and as mentioned it supports up to 8 players. Unfortunately when you're the only dude in your city with a PSP (my thanks go out to Darrin for hooking me up with his for a fortnight), it's very hard to play other people, go figure. As well, I couldn't even test out the wi-fi scenario for the sake of this review so that will have to remain a question mark until more people get their hands on a system.

Music has always been a big part of the WipEout experience and as mentioned earlier within this review, it almost singlehandedly launched the careers of some, then unknown, techno artists such as Cold Storage, The Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Daft Punk and the FSOL. Pure sees the return of a few WipEout alumni, including Cold Storage and while the music remains very true to the origins of the series, it mildly strays outside the lines of bass and drum here and there, but nothing too drastic. Simply put that means you won't have to suffer through Rob Zombie's Dragula, but you will enjoy the pulsepounding tunes of Photek, Aphex Twin, Tiesto and others.

While saying WipEout Pure is one of the best launch titles on the PSP, it's easy for the eager gamer looking to spend his money to translate that comment into "This one of the best games...EVER." No it's not. Had Pure shown up on the PS2, game critics would have been hailing it as more of the same and nailing it to a cross for being an unimaginative rehash. I can almost guarantee this. But the rules are relaxed when a new system comes out. Is that because our expectations of first generation software is so low that we fawn over every game that just manages to look great and play half decently? Yeah, that's it right there. WipEout Pure succeeds on the PSP in spite of quite probably failing on the consoles, but it's new and funky and no matter what we say, we're all human. We get excited by new shiny things. Play Pure if you've been a fan of WipEout at any point in its rocky road from riches to rags, but if you've been a skeptic who has always been unsure of what the fuss has been, this game won't do anything to change your mind. It's WipEout.

PReview by Vaughn

Maybe you're too young to remember just how cool WipEout was when it debuted on the funky new Sony PSone system way back in 96...or was it 95? Man, that was ten years ago. Some of you were just babies then. Now you're all grown up and readying to drop some mucho donero on the cool new Sony PSP. Can history repeat itself with WipEout Pure blowing new gamers away with it's futuristic racing and launching the PSP to incredible new heights?

No. It definitely won't happen like that this time around.

It's just that, well, we have seen pretty much everything the WipEout series has to offer and we doubt that Sony will take any chances with this once awesome franchise. There is too much riding on success to be taking chances.

That's not to say WipEout can't or won't kick some ass. It sure might, but until I play it, how the heck would I know? The screens look mighty impressive and we're assuming Sony will work hard to ensure that the framerate is as solid as can be.

8 Player wi-fi tourneys sounds awfully good to us and for that alone, we're pretty excited by the appearance of the first new WipEout game in years. Stay tuned for more info.

Features:

* Featuring all-new environments and race craft plus a pumping soundtrack specially created for the game by a range of top artists
* Post launch downloads give you access to extra circuits, new craft, personalised skins and additional music
* Go head-to-head full-screen in 8-player tournaments via WiFi

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System: PSP
Dev: Sony
Pub: Sony
Released: Mar 2005
Players: 1 - 8
Review by Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
4.5
GRAPHICS
5.0
CONTROL
4.5
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
4.5