Review by Hellfire X

"One giant leap back in the right direction"

To many fans of the Wipeout series, Wipeout Fusion represented the nadir. The physics engine that Wipeout was rightly revered for had gone, and in its place was a flat F-Zero-like mediocre racer with an arsenal that practically dominated every single race. As a result of this, the announcement of Wipeout Pure was received with high expectation and a sense that the series was going back to its roots following strong assurances from Studio Liverpool. And it has definitely taken a huge step back in the right direction.

It was never going to be easy translating a game such as Wipeout onto the small screen of the PSP, but somehow Studio Liverpool have come out with the best looking game in the series to date. Even without the hi-res graphics that Fusion was blessed with, Pure has held its own. The neo-urban surroundings of the tracks look just beautiful, and are excellently enhanced by a very effective lighting engine. Aside from the neon lights that adorn the buildings, the shimmering water effects in Vineta K and the sun glare as you exit dark tunnels, as well as the cloud-tops of Sol 2, really show you what this little machine can do and that the designers have spared little expense. The tracks are not the only thing that have been revamped. The ships themselves have reverted back to the classic style rather than the floating bricks of Fusion. Those who have played Wip3out will recognise the styling of the Auricom ship instantly, the twin-wedged hull of the Assegai is another welcome return, and the FEISAR has retained its archetypal image. Even the Qirex has been given a cutting-edge redesign reminiscent of an Eldar Falcon from the Warhammer 40K universe. The two newcomers, Triakis and Harimau, also look worthy of a place amongst the veterans. Every effort has been placed into giving this game its own identity aside from that of its predecessor. There are also four classic tracks in this game, one from each previous Wipeout, that have been created as a colourful CGI environment rather than as an actual track.

What really sets the game aside from Fusion is its physics engine. The last game had a very flat feel, with your ship being pretty much glued to the track rather than having any real sense that it was floating, and it made for a very stale race. Pure had remedied it somewhat, but it still isn't quite back to the roots. Especially on the slower classes, the craft still feel like they are racing on a flat layer rather than floating, but the handling has been improved dramatically. Once again, the airbrakes provide a crisp response and, while difficult to use initially, become indispensable in faster classes. Gravity also has a great impact on the responses of the craft, as the craft will now slide down the track if on an incline, requiring you to adjust your flight line accordingly. This also makes certain sections of tracks much easier to navigate, as the track tries to help you turn as you do. However, in places this has been overdone, and you may find yourself being blinded by vicious winding turns or flying off the track entirely. This is especially evident on the Citta Nuova track, which has a sharply winding set of chicanes that wave up and down, desperately trying to slam you into the ceiling or throw you off. There are two extra manoeuvres your craft can perform in Pure. The sideshift is a real asset when taking sharp corners at speeds, and performing a barrel roll while airborne will give you a speed boost upon landing at the expense of a small amount of your shield.

Another criticism from Fusion was the strength of the weapons, which frequently resulted in a near-wrecked ship before completing the first lap. The Pure arsenal has been toned down to a point where it still poses a threat, but only a heavy barrage will leave your ship crippled. Rather than setting out to simply damage and destroy, the main emphasis on weapons usage in Pure is to disrupt. The weapons themselves have also been incorporated into the physics engine and will now batter your ship around the track as well as slow and damage you. An excellent idea if not for the surprisingly weak thrusters on the ships. Recovering from a weapon hit feels like it takes an age, and being hit practically guarantees you will drop a place or two on the higher classes. However, there's nothing more satisfying than putting a rocket barrage up someone and seeing them slam into the wall in a sharp turn. There have been a couple of additions to the arsenal as well. The Bomb, which is a single high-explosive package released from the rear of your craft, and the Disruption Bolt, which can have a variety of negative effects such as disabling airbrakes and reversing controls. There is also a secondary role for the weapons as well. The pit lanes from previous games have been removed, you now recharge your shields by absorbing unneeded weapons. Again, this helps to add another strategic element to the game, as it's no longer a case of launching every weapon you find. If you're low on shield, you can find yourself in a dilemma of whether to fire your weapon and go for first place but risk being destroyed, or absorb it for some shield energy and be content with second. One criticism I do have of the weapons is their graphical effects. While the explosions are indeed spectacular to behold, the smoke screen left in the aftermath is blinding. Launch a set of rockets on a corner and the explosion will obscure your view ahead, which may not be a problem when you know the tracks inside-out, but beginners may find this a little irritating. The Quake also suffers from the same problem it did in 2097. It does not speed up in the later speed classes. Launching one in Vector class isn't a problem, but in Phantom your ship will manage to keep up with it, completely obscuring the track ahead. If there are a lot of explosions at once, there can be some minor slowdown as well, but nothing compared to what Fusion suffered with at times.

There are three game modes in single player, which are Single Race, Tournament and Zone. Single Race is pretty self explanatory, you choose a craft, race class and track and then compete in a single race against seven other craft. Tournament sets you up in a series of four (or eight in Ascension) races to compete for points. Zone mode is something a bit special, and was quite possibly one of the only redeeming features of Fusion. The idea is simply to direct a craft around the track for as long as possible as it gets faster and faster as time goes on. Once you reach zones of around 40-50, you really start to appreciate the speeds that this game can reach. And speed is something Pure has in abundance. The learning curve across the speed classes feels like an exponential increase. Vector and Venom class (the two available from the start) are very easy with a small increase in difficulty between them. Flash becomes considerably harder, and the incline from that to Rapier and Phantom can be a real shock to the system.

The only major criticism I have about Pure is the AI. For the first half-lap to full lap of any race, the AI craft will accelerate to what seems to be pre-determined places around the circuit. Most of them are still fairly tightly packed, so there's plenty of action to be had, but it allows you to get very little advantage at the start of a race. Even if you manage to get a quick start, the AI ships quickly overtake you again and are not reasonably assailable until you are once again at the back of the pack. They can also seem overly brutal in higher speed classes. I mentioned earlier that the arsenal has been toned down, but quake-bomb-missile in quick succession isn't as rare as you might think. The weapon warning system is also next to useless. In previous games, you had about a second's warning before a weapon was fired so you actually had a chance to evade it. Here, the warning comes as the weapon is fired, so if you're in close proximity to the assailant there's nothing you can do. However, this really doesn't detract from the race enough to make you throw down your PSP in disgust. It's irritating, but certainly manageable, and guaranteed if you fall victim to this, you'll immediately hit "restart race" and give it another bash.

While single player mode will last you a considerable amount of time (what with the 144 gold medals to obtain), multiplayer is great fun. Using the PSP's built-in Wi-Fi connection, you can connect up to eight PSPs in a single race or tournament and slug it out over a wireless network. The only slight quip is the lack of any sort of multiplayer lobby, once a race has ended you are taken straight back to the main menu, requiring you to set the game up all over again. And if you can't get access to multiplayer games, Sony are releasing update packs over the course of the next six months containing new tracks, ships and menu skins. The new tracks will make up the Gamma league, which may potentially lead to a new single player tournament, and the updates will also see the return of the classic Tigron, Van-Uber, Icaras and Goteki45 craft.

In conclusion, Wipeout Pure has finally gotten the series back where it belongs. Despite still not being quite there in terms of the handling and general Wipeout "feel" that myself and the rest of the die-hard fanbase are so familiar with, coupled with the odd AI problem, it is definitely one giant leap back in the right direction. Studio Liverpool should be proud, Wipeout is back.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 06/08/05

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