Let's backtrack nearly twenty-eight months to the European launch of the PSP. It's hard to remember now after all the carping and moaning about the system's lack of decent games, but it really did have a fantastic launch line-up. With Ridge Racer, Virtua Tennis and Lumines it proved that the promise of console-quality games in handheld format was no lie, and none of those games demonstrated this better than Wipeout: Pure. Dragging us back to the days when Wipeout caused a generation of club-goers to pick up a pad for the first time in years, it was an incredible showcase of light, colour, sound and energy, delivering cool 3D graphics at ridiculous speeds and revelling in the high-level pace that had made the series so great to begin with. In short, it was really, really good.
And now Wipeout: Pulse is a brutal, slap-in-the-face reminder of what Sony's pocket monster can do. Visually speaking, I think it's the handheld's finest hour. Pure had its share of spectacular tracks, but Pulse's twisting, undulating, looping tracks and futuristic backgrounds really are something else altogether. Everywhere you look there are telltale signs of a team prodding and tweaking as if to see what they can get away with on the format without bringing the whole frame rate crashing down. There's more detail, more gorgeous, glowing lighting, more animation and just more scale to the courses.
Toss in the vapour trails of the anti-grav vehicles, the fiery blasts and plasma bursts of the offensive weapons and the pulses of energy visible beneath transparent sections of the track, and Pulse tries as hard as any game on any platform this year to dazzle your senses. Now add in the fact that this is all moving at high speed at a ridiculous, silky-smooth frame rate and it just gets better. Put your headphones in, whack the blaring trance and techno soundtrack up, and Pulse is arguably the most hypnotic and overwhelming experience available on a handheld format.
Okay, so it is ‘just' more Wipeout. The whole point of Pure was to bring the series back to glorious basics, and once you've done that it hardly makes much sense to start sticking more unnecessary features back in. It's still all about racing at high speed, keeping focused on the horizon, anticipating each twist and every turn and knowing when and how to use the airbrakes. It's also still about using the randomly picked-up power-ups: knowing when to boost and when to let those missiles fly to best effect.
Pulse, like Pure, is a little more gentle on the less skilled player than the notoriously demanding original Wipeout. Collisions with the track-side end in sparks and friction, not a total slow-down, and your craft can generally take more knocks before exploding. However, if you don't like Wipeout, or you don't have the time or patience to get to grips with its peculiar mode of handling, then Pulse won't make you change your mind. It's basically a bigger, better Pure with improved multiplayer features and a tighter, more cleverly integrated single-player campaign. If you're smart and remember what happened when Sony let its studios mess with the formula, you'll probably regard this as a good thing.