[E3 2011] WipEout Gone Wide

Studio Liverpool lives! And they're heading back in time for a cross-platform WipEout reboot.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: June 15, 2011
There are very few examples -- perhaps none -- that best personifies the early days of the PlayStation brand better than WipEout. The original game's debut melded a huge sense of speed with one of the most pitch-perfect licensed electronica soundtracks of its day and became a defining example of what Sony was bringing to the console market: speed, power and cutting-edge cool.

It was helped, of course, by the rise of not just breaking acts from the electronic music scene, but truly imaginative graphic design houses like The Designers Republic. Together, and married with then-Psygnosis' deft handling of the PlayStation hardware (among other platforms), the WipEout series went on to snare millions of PS one users, adding weapons, constantly iterating and building on track designs... and then it all sort of stopped.

It didn't stop stop, mind you, just sort of hibernated for a bit. The release of WipEout Fusion was handled with an odd sort of trepidation on Sony Computer Entertainment America's part, instead being published by BAM! Entertainment (along with the SCE Europe-developed Dropship) to less than stellar reviews, though we still really liked it. It would be almost three years before the series was reborn on the PSP with WipEout Pure, and another three before WipEout Pulse would prove Studio Liverpool still had the chops -- something WipEout HD and it's Fury expansion would prove with authority.

So why the big history lesson? Because WipEout 2048, while cross-compatible with the remastered Pulse and Pure tracks found in WipEout HD, also has its own set of new tracks that highlights the game's place along the timeline. Specifically? It takes place before the formation of the FX Racing League that begat Pulse and Pure -- indeed WipEout 2048 pre-dates the very first game by almost half a decade. As a result, the 2048-designed tracks show a kind of adorable archaic quality to them, not yet having been hewn by years of progressively faster speed classes and ever-changing manufacturers.

Long before WipEout's courses came to wind through neon-lit valleys and hover far above cloud cover, they were relegated to streets closed to traffic and only ventured the odd climb into verticality. They were wider, apparently, too, which makes for a far more welcoming environment for those that didn't cut their teeth on the relentlessly taxing and twitchy courses of some of the hardest games in the series. Make no mistake, this isn't meant to be My First WipEout: The Game, but it's going to take newcomers by the hand a bit more... at least at first.

The jump back in time has also meant all the original teams are present, adding a kind of retro feel to everything that meshes with the wider style of tracks. Those tracks themselves are rife with things like undulating off-road terrain and, in the highlight of our time with the game, a vertical climb up a skyscraper only to go racing down the other side. The courses are a little more varied now too, with not just divergent paths that can be taken, but ones that actually cross over and under each other -- something that we took advantage of for our race against the AI before finally squaring off in a Vita vs. PS3 race that ran flawlessly on both systems.

Given the bevy of control options that the Vita has, it wasn't a huge surprise to see that Studio Liverpool is tweaking things a bit to allow for different experiences. Like WipEout HD, motion controls can be used, tilting the Vita to round bends or even using the back touchpad for acceleration and using the multitouch screen to fire or absorb weapons.

In truth, though, we stuck pretty closely to the original controls, though one of the new control schemes ditches the old airbrakes and side-stepping in favor of a kind of context-sensitive brake that will help keep beginning players off the walls. Again, the course design this time around is a little more open, a little more gradual (though there are of course plenty of hard rights and lefts due to the tracks still using the grid-like city streets). It felt almost too open at first... until we played the tougher tracks and realized that, yes, this is still WipEout through and through, and learning the course is still absolutely central to mastering the almost Zen-like state of careening blindly around corners.

While the Vita's screen was absolutely gorgeous, we did notice that the various track textures that pulled from less contrasted colors and detail meant it could get a little hard to see which way an upcoming turn was going, but that was probably just us. By and large, our limited time with WipEout 2048 only made us pine for the release date of the Vita that much more. Those that jumped on board with the PSP WipEouts will understand why 2048 is a damn fine launch title, and with PS3/Vita play, it should stay active for a bit longer than a solo platform release.

As soon as we're able to spend more time with the game, we'll happily relay our impressions. Check back soon!