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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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