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October 13, 2008
Wipeout HD - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
25/9/2008SonySonyStudio Liverpool1-22-8
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Wipeout HD is a bright, colourful game!
I can still remember the day I decided I had to upgrade to one of Sony's new fandangled Playstation's (the PSOne that is). It was one day after work when a friend of mine invited me back to his place to try out his new PlayStation and the games he'd just purchased for it. One of the games he'd bought was Wipeout – I have no idea what the others were because none of them made their way into the PlayStation that day. Once Wipeout started I was absolutely blown away by the graphics, the pumping techno soundtrack and above all the nearly unparalleled speed of the game. With these fond memories well and truly at the forefront of my mind I eagerly volunteered to review Wipeout HD.

For those few who have never played a Wipeout game before, Wipeout is a futuristic combat racing game where you control an anti-gravity ship around some of the most bending, twisting racetracks never made, at impossibly high speeds. There are three main game modes in Wipeout HD – Campaign, Racebox and Online. Campaign mode is the primary single-player option, featuring eight levels of racing. Racebox mode allows you to practice your skills on any of the unlocked tracks, either on your own or against a friend in two-player split-screen mode. Playing online allows you to compete against up to seven human-controlled racers in either a single race or tournament.

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Ship design always manages to impress.
Within each level of Campaign mode there are multiple race types to try – Speed Lap (you against the clock), Single Race (you against seven AI opponents), Time Trial (multiple-lap races with just the clock to beat), Tournament (multiple races against AI racers) and Zone. In Zone races it's all about survival with the race getting progressively faster until you reach speeds that will test even the best of reflexes.

As you progress through the levels you'll unlock new ships, new tracks for use in Racebox mode and using any one ship often enough will see your loyalty rewarded with new colour-schemes for that ship along with other bonuses. Wipeout HD also features trophy support which gives you extra incentive to achieve certain objectives.

Winning or placing in Campaign events scores you points which go towards unlocking the next campaign level. Moving up through the levels will increase the speed of the races on that level, and therefore the difficulty. There are four race-speeds in Wipeout HD - Venom, Flash, Rapier and Phantom varying from manageable to intense.

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About to start the Zone mode.
The level design in Wipeout HD is close to perfect. The tracks themselves are re-worked versions of those seen in Wipeout Pulse and Wipeout Pure on PSP, giving the developers plenty of time to get them just right and it shows. The placement of boost and weapons panels around each track will assist you in finding the right racing line which is imperative in Wipeout HD, as hitting the walls or missing boost panels is a surefire way to miss out on timed objectives in particular, but also in winning races. This is especially true in the later levels of Campaign mode where the difficulty level rises sharply.

After each race you can opt to race it again (you can also adjust the difficulty here too if you're struggling) without returning to the main menu and the track will re-load within seconds. Interestingly you get the same amount of points used to unlock the next Campaign level whether you win a race on Novice, Skilled or Elite difficulty, so if you're getting stuck you can try the race on Novice difficulty in an attempt to progress.

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Watch for the explosion ahead.
A new feature that will help you out when the going gets tough is Pilot Assist, which gently guides your ship away from the walls minimising the damage your ship takes, and allowing you maintain top-speed for longer. This is a very user-friendly feature that will help those new to the Wipeout franchise find their feet as well as get you through some of the trickier races in Campaign mode. It can feel a lot like cheating though, so after a while you may only use it when your progress has completely stalled.

In a game that moves as fast as Wipeout HD you need precise controls, which is exactly what you get thankfully. The ships all handle intuitively and the air-brakes work as well as ever. You can now do a barrel-roll by tapping left, right, left (or right, left, right) on the analog stick as you go over a jump for a boost of speed on landing – these are essential for beating the clock in timed events. There is also Sixaxis support, allowing you to control the pitch and steering, or just the pitch of your ship by making the appropriate movement with your Sixaxis controller. Although your ship responds well to the movements of the controller, it's never as reliable or successful as simply using the analog sticks, especially at the faster race speeds.

There's the usual stockpile of weapons to choose from including rockets, missiles, machine-guns, mines and the earthquake from past games in the series. There's an all new leach-bomb which drains your opponents' energy and replenishes your own, along with a turbo-boost and shield. A new feature in Wipeout HD (well, new to consoles as this was in the PSP games) is the ability to absorb your weapons with the press of a button, which restores thirty points of ship energy. Whilst this may not sound like a big deal, the energy gained from your weapons in this way can often be the difference between finishing a race and crashing out.

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Another vibrant Wipeout HD level.
Although Wipeout HD is a lot of fun, there are a couple of minor issues worth pointing out. Firstly, as mentioned earlier, anyone who owns Wipeout Pulse and/or Wipeout Pure on PSP will experience a sense of déjà vu when playing this game. That is because all eight tracks in the game have been lifted from those two games. Though the levels have been reworked for the move to HD, there's not going to be anything completely new here for those that mastered Pulse and Pure. The soundtrack too has been lifted directly from Wipeout Pulse. Secondly, it's worth pointing out again that the difficulty curve in Wipeout HD is very sharp. Most people will be able to navigate their way to level four or five of Campaign mode with few problems, but after that the game gets a whole lot tougher - perhaps a little too tough for some people. The time-limit in timed events allows next to no room for error, and your AI rivals show no compassion at all as they attempt to blast you to smithereens in races. Even with Pilot Assist turned on, progression through Campaign mode may slow to a crawl at various stages.

Finally, as much fun as it is to race against human opponents, the online mode is not the smooth experience you might hope for. Firstly there's not much to do – race against your rivals in a single race, or take them on in a tournament. It's fun, but the novelty can wear off within a session or two. There were also a couple of technical niggles when I went online. I found that there was often a half-second delay between picking up a weapon and actually receiving it, or being hit by a weapon and having the damage register on my ship. It was a small issue, but it definitely affected the online experience. There was a pop-up message saying that Sony was aware that some people were experiencing problems playing online and that the issue was being worked on, so hopefully in future these minor problems are ironed out. (Indeed Sony have released Patch 1.10 has now been released which apparently addresses many online issues - Dave).

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Got a bit of catching up to do there...
One thing no-one can complain about however is the graphics - Wipeout HD looks fantastic. The game runs at silky-smooth 60-frames-per-second at all resolutions up to 1080p. Everything looks as neat, crisp and polished as you could hope for and there are no signs of slow-down, pop-ups, screen-tearing or any other visual negatives. You may have to let someone else have a turn so that you can just sit back and enjoy just how pretty the game really is, because it's hard to fully appreciate it when you're hurtling around the screen at a thousand kilometers an hour. Certainly anyone that purchases the game for the graphics will not be disappointed. Wipeout HD looks top-notch.

The Wipeout series has always had great music to go along with its high-speed racing, and Wipeout HD is no different. As previously mentioned the soundtrack has been taken directly from Wipeout Pulse and it always feels appropriate; helping set the right mood while you tear away down the tracks. My only minor complaint with the music is that there are no really pumping tunes like those featured in the early Wipeout games. The good news though is that you can change a setting in the game to play music stored on the PS3's hard drive. The sound effects are sparse but appropriate and certainly do the job well enough.

In summary Wipeout HD is a great game. It looks absolutely superb and is as fast as any die-hard Wipeout fan could wish for. The music is enjoyable and it's a heck of a lot of fun to play. Sony are promising future downloadable content for the game and there is already trophy-support to keep you busy, giving the game has plenty of replay value. The difficulty issue, limited and slightly buggy online play along with the fact that PSP owners will have played it all before (though never looking this beautiful) should be but minor deterrents. At a tick under $30 this is as close to an essential download as the Playstation Store has to offer and a must-have game for all Wipeout fans.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSFantastic. Runs at a full 60 fps with no hiccups.
SOUNDThe music suits the game well and the effects do their job.
GAMEPLAYA whole lot of fun, though the severe difficulty may turn some people off.
VALUEShort-ish, but Sony promises downloadable content in future. Great value at $30.
OVERALLWipeout HD is fast, fun and looks fantastic. A must have for fans and newcomers alike.

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