Where there are changes, they’re very well considered. Pulse does away with Pure’s simple championship structure, where you went through a series of tournaments in one speed class then moved up to the next. Instead you work your way through several grids of events. Note ‘events’ not ‘races.’ In a nod to modern racers like Burnout: Revenge or Project Gotham Racing 4, secondary game modes like time trials, hot laps, eliminations and Pure’s magnificent Zone have all become events in the main career mode, instead of being shuffled off to the side.
Getting podium positions in enough events unlocks further events, and eventually further grids, tracks, racing teams and so vehicles. The cool thing about this structure is that it adds variety to the game while also ensuring that you’re never left banging your head hopelessly against a brick wall of a race and unable to get any further. Just take a breath, give something else a go and come back if you want to later on.
Whatever event you choose, Pulse gets all the important stuff right. It’s not just the incredible sensation of raw, barely-harnessed speed that makes it such a treat; it’s the handling – demanding but learnable – and the excellent course design. In getting back to basics, Pure played its tracks relatively straight from the best of Wipeout. It was only in the downloadable track packs releases afterwards that the team really started to experiment. Now, with Pulse, they’ve got some ingenious new twists to show us. The track now has magnetic properties, allowing for some fiendish loops, fearsome lateral twists and one or two breathtaking 90 degree drops – the sort of thing we haven’t seen since the last F-Zero.
Even time trials are utterly thrilling because the feeling of speeding through a series of bunny hops or hurling your craft this way, that way and roughly every other way is so powerful. Wipeout has always been a bit like racing on a roller-coaster track, but here we’re talking Nemesis, not the sort you find at Blackpool. And if you think those curves are dangerous at the basic Venom speed class, just wait to play them on Flash, Rapier and Phantom. In fact, I’ll forget about Phantom – I’m not sure my tired eyes and battered reflexes will ever be up to the challenge.
The races, meanwhile, are ludicrously intense. The AI plays fast, hard and mean. You have little room for error and if you’re not prepared to play nasty yourself then you’re also not prepared to win. My one major complaint about the game would be that this does lead to a rather off-putting initial difficulty level – especially if you’re a Wipeout newbie. That said, if any game is worth an hour of poor results while you get used to the controls, it’s this one. The other big drawback is that the controls haven’t got any more comfortable since last time. It’s lucky that you can play and win using the digital D-pad, because the combination of analogue nub, face buttons and shoulder bumpers is guaranteed to cause agony after a couple of hours of racing. Damn you, Sony Studio Liverpool, for making this game so addictive!