Platform: PlayStation Vita
Throughout its sixteen year history (we know – it doesn’t half make you feel old) Wipeout has been a game much imitated but never bettered. Its ludicrously speedy anti-grav racing, its collision of clubland and sci-fi aesthetics, and its carefully picked dance soundtracks once helped transform the console market, and still make it a vital brand for PlayStation today. Its presence on Vita at launch feels like a statement of Intent. Look, it seems to say, your tablet or smartphone can give you all the tilt-controlled futuristic racers you might want, but only Vita can give you the real deal. This isn’t some ropey, half-arsed, cheap imitation of a classic, but a thoroughbred Wipeout experience from nosecone to jet-streaming tail.
In a way, it’s more of a prequel than a reboot, with the idea being to take anti-grav racing back to its earliest days. The courses are set in a near-future version of New York City, with the tracks overlaid and wound around the existing streets and landmarks. It’s an interesting departure from the neon futurism of the PSP’s Wipeout Pure and the PS3’s Wipeout HD, but one of the few ways in which the game messes with the successful formula. This is less a reinvention than a celebration.
Graphically, it’s another Vita stunner. While it’s mildly disappointing that Wipeout 2048 runs at 30 rather than 60fps, it still feels fast and fluid, while lavish effects and superb visual detail make for an experience that can be overwhelming despite the Vita’s smaller screen. Not all the tracks are immediatey distinguishable from each other, but most have a couple of ‘wow’ moments, whether a high-speed loop or a sudden bank that flings your craft into the sky.
Put on some headphones, turn the pulsing, beat-heavy soundtrack up and Wipeout 2048 still creates the same kind of thrills in 2012 that Wipeout did in 1995. In fact, with Orbital, Kraftwerk, Future Sound of London, Underworld, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy all on the soundtrack, there’s a level of nostalgia at play. That’s good news for us old-school gamers who were dazzled by it in those halcyon days.
With the PSP’s Wipeout Pure, the series difficulty level finally hit the right balance between terrifyingly steep and accessibly forgiving, and Wipeout 2048 doesn’t go too far in either direction. Early tracks have a bit more width and you’re not hit with a punitive slow-down every time you scrape the trackside, but if you’re not willing to concentrate, learn the tracks and develop serious braking skills, then you simply won’t get far.
As with all the good iterations of the series, getting to grips with the airbreaks is key, and as you move through the speed classes you’ll learn how a light touch and precise cornering will put you at an advantage as the pace shifts up. At full speed, Wipeout still demands a level of attention that other racing games can’t match, and while you can play the game with tilt controls, you’re making work for yourself in doing so. This isn’t the kind of game where you want any barrier between instinct and action.