sk a casual gamer to name the first futuristic arcade racer that comes to mind and you're bound to hear the name F-Zero. While that SNES classic might have been one of the first video game experiences that let us feel the rush of Tron's lightcycle duels, it certainly wasn't the last. Back in the days before Psygnosis was gobbled up as part of Sony's first-party development stable, they were busy designing the racer that would by itself sell over a million new PlayStations. The original Wipeout combined groundbreaking 3-D visuals with a soundtrack that to this day serves as a "who's who" of electronica. We've seen the franchise subtly change over the years at the hands of Psygnosis/Sony Liverpool's design staff, but the core mantra remains the same: breakneck speed; beautiful visuals; bass-pumping soundtrack. Wipeout HD, released last week as a download title for the PlayStation 3, brings the series into the current hardware generation.
BOOM!!!There's probably a good reason why the casual gamers I mentioned earlier haven't heard of Wipeout. Labeling this an "arcade" racing franchise is sort of like calling a Ferrari F430 a "car" — the controls which allow expert players to skirt around Wipeout HD's tracks as if on rails will undoubtedly frustrate novices to no end. Unlike the vast majority of arcade racers, brakes aren't optional when hurtling around hairpins at 400+ kph. By throttling the left and right airbrakes, players will be able to navigate Wipeout's tracks without bouncing around like a pinball. Although the controls take a while to acclimate to, the patient will be rewarded with a racing experience that's downright Zen-like.
As its name implies, Wipeout HD's visuals are simply stunning.Wipeout HD's courses are mostly top-notch — they should be considering this is basically a "best of" compilation of PSP tracks. The key to success is memorization. I'm a little bit surprised that some sort of onscreen representation of the track isn't displayed on your HUD (Wipeout 3 included this feature), but even with such an aid, it would take multiple tries to ace any course. It doesn't help matters much that your seven AI-controlled adversaries are constantly lobbing rockets in your direction.
I'll give you a moment to wrap your
brain around this visual.As its name implies, Wipeout HD's visuals are simply stunning. The PlayStation 3 hardware allows lighting to play a bigger role in the look of the franchise — vehicles and tracks exhibit some of the most believable reflection effects I've ever seen. The understated design elements which debuted in Wipeout 3 are back, and they look as chic today as they did in 1999. Whether you appreciate it's steep difficulty curve or not, just about everyone is bound to stop and stare when Wipeout HD is running on a decent high-definition display. While all nine music tracks have been recycled from previous PSP releases, they've been remixed in lush Dolby 5.1 surround sound. What these songs lack in originality, they more than make up for with their primeval oomph — if you weren't so busy trying to stay on the track, you might actually enjoy the private rave DJ Fresh and friends were throwing for you in your living room.
For a racing game with only eight tracks, Wipeout HD sure does find ways to keep one's attention. If the quest for single-player perfection ever grows old (and it hasn't for me after nearly nine years), the game's online mode is waiting with challenges galore — if you thought the AI's attacks were relentless, wait until you meet XxKillerDeth420xX from Houston. All told, Wipeout HD is one of the most fleshed out and challenging racers on the modern consoles. Throw in the fact that it's available as a download for just $20, and you've got one of the easiest sells in gaming.