Game Review: wipEout Pulse (PSP)

WipEout Pulse, released in 2007, was the second and final game in the franchise to be released for the PSP and as with the original PSOne game has been made available to buy from the PlayStation Store as a legacy title to run on the PS Vita.

A Confession…

I have to be honest and say that I wasn’t really that impressed with the early WipEout games on the PSOne. I bought the original PlayStation on the day of release in the UK along with a bundle of games including the first in the WipEout series and while I was impressed with its stylish approach, soundtrack and visuals, the controls and gameplay left me somewhat cold.

Personally I thought the game was more style than substance. But in a way I think thas the intention from Sony with their launch title. If the PlayStation was going to be a success, it had to appeal to a market beyond the “traditional” games console audience so for WipEout, the look and sound was everything. It was the sort of gamble you’d take at a best Australian online casino, but it paid off in droves. The spin off merchandise, emblazed with the logos of the fictional race teams from the game, was almost as popular as the game itself!

Redemption?

For me I’d say the entire series came into its own once the PlayStation family introduced analogue controllers as standard, and this included the PSP. Suddenly the games transformed from being cumbersome and – at times – clunky to control, to a fluid and fast racing experience. While each still took time to master the nuances of the combination of speed, steering and the innovative air brakes, the new controls turned them into almost a completely new series of games altogether. I decided to take a chance on WipEout Pulse to see if my faith in the earlier releases in the series could be restored…

Developed by Sony’s Studio Liverpool, on paper it was certainly going to be in good hands. The development team was formerly known as Psygnosis and were the original developers of WipEout on the PlayStation so it’s safe to say that they should know the franchise better than anyone else.

Getting Started With WipEout Pulse

On loading up for the first time you create a user profile that’s used throughout the game, primarily for record keeping but also for identifying you in races and for multiplayer games, but I’ll come onto those later on. The menu presents players with three main options for play – the main Race Campaign mode, Racebox and the Multiplayer / Sharing menu.

Most of you familiar with the WipEout series will dive straight into the Race Campaign. Spread over the vast 24 tracks on offer, the game is split over 16 grids. Each of these is broken down into a number of races, each with different objectives that need to be completed. Some are straightforward races against AI opponents, other races involve time trials where you have to beat a set time limit over a fixed number of laps.

To start off with, each grid only has a couple of races available, with more unlocked as you complete them. Medals are awarded based on your performance with each medal being worth a number of points. Earn enough and the next grid is unlocked for play.

Racebox is next up and this mode allows you to create your own custom races. There are a variety to choose from, each based on the type of races seen in the Campaign mode. You can choose the speed level of the opponents, difficulty level and – depending on the type of race – whether weapons can be used or not. Once you’ve selected the options, you can race on whichever of the 24 tracks in the game have been unlocked in the Campaign. With the range of settings available to customise, there’s an endless amount of gameplay to be had just from this mode alone.

There are also two multiplayer modes to extend the game’s lifespan further still. The first offers online multiplayer (although at this stage I’d say that this is no longer available) and the second uses the PSP’s ad-hoc wireless function. One thing I have found is that this can also work between two PS Vitas or a PSP and Vita so in theory this should still be useable even today to race against friends.

Time To Get Racing!

So that’s the game modes, but what about the WipEout experience itself? Races in the game aren’t just a case of flying your futuristic gravity-defying craft as fast as you can though… Your craft is able to use a variety of weapons and abilities that can be collected along the way, using a similar system adopted by Mario Kart. Activation pads are located at various points around each track and flying over these will add a single-use power-up to your craft ranging from EMP waves, homing missiles, speed boosts, shields and an ever-useful auto pilot. Also scattered around the tracks are speed boost pads and flying over these will give you a short-term boost for a few vital seconds.

What makes WipEout Pulse (and its predecessors) different is the way it controls and handles its weapons. There are 8 craft at your disposal, each from a different futuristic race team. Unlike many racers, each has genuinely different performance characteristics and you can notice the change between them as you swap from one to the other. This adds an extra layer of depth making the game unique for each player.

In terms of the actual control system, as well as the usual accelerate/brake controls, you have two airbrakes which give you incredibly subtle controls for tighter and more precise cornering. It’s these that set WipEout apart from its peers and where it takes time to master the game’s nuances. You can’t slam on the accelerator and hope to power your way around the track in the same way you would with any other racer.

The weapons are also a lot deeper than Mario Kart. It’s not just a case of collect them and let rip. Your craft take damage from attacks and collisions with the track walls and if you take too much your flyer explodes and it’s race over. However, instead of using weapons you can choose to absorb their power into your craft and repair the damage you’ve taken. This adds a much welcome strategic element to the racing action.

Looking Good

One thing that struck me immediately were the visuals. The WipEout series has always been praised for its graphics, but WipEout Pulse really impressed me. Running this on the PlayStation TV I expected a fast, smooth racing experience but with a degree of pixelisation in the now-dated imagery. Instead it holds up remarkably well, certainly with the best the PS2 has to offer. More importantly it flies along at an astonishing speed and I’d have to say that this runs faster and smoother than WipEout 2048 on the Vita!

As you’d expect, it has a stunning soundtrack to accompany the visuals, with plenty of speech throughout introducing each of the tracks and making in game announcements about weapons and your overall status.

Overall

When this was first released, it did offer support for DLC with additional tracks and music although sadly this is now missing from the PlayStation Store. This doesn’t harm the base game though as it’s still superb value for money and as the saying goes, you don’t miss what you don’t have!

I have to say that this isn’t the best racing game to grace the PSP, but it’s still a great racer and well worth checking out but it is challenging. It will take a lot of practice and perseverance to get the best out of it and like others in the series before it, it’s not for the feint-hearted.

The WipEout games certainly aren’t easy, but that makes succeeding at them all the more rewarding. But if you’re looking for something that will keep you coming back for that elusive “one more go” until you beat it, and you’re looking for something that will push the PSP to its limits, then look no further.

Facebook Comments

About Simon Plumbe 1066 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe