Monday, August 24, 2009

Wipeout Pulse (PSP) Review

I'm slowly but surely taking down my backlog. This time around we're checking out a recent PSP game in the form of Wipeout Pulse.

A Healthy Pulse Indeed
All screenshots by SuperPhillip

The F-Zero series is Nintendo's answer to futuristic racing, and to many it's hailed as the king. However, Sony Liverpool's Wipeout franchise is poised to take that crown with its multiple installments over the past decade each of varying degrees of success. PSP owners got a taste of Wipeout with the launch release Wipeout Pure. Years later, Liverpool is at it again with a brand-new entry into the long-running franchise with Wipeout Pulse, a game that's bigger and better than their PSP original racer. Is Wipeout Pulse racing at its finest, or is this title doomed to crash and burn?

Leader of the pack.

The single-player mode in Wipeout Pulse has been completely revamped since Pure. Instead of just doing grand prix, time trials, and single race events for medals, you now choose missions from a grid select screen. There's a vast assortment of missions on a grid-like board-- most of which are locked up. Completing one of the available missions will unlock all missions adjacent to it. There's sixteen different grid boards in all in the single-player mode, and each grid features more difficult challenges to attempt and hopefully complete. Each mission has one of three medals that can be earned-- gold, silver, or bronze. Each medal gives you points. Earn enough points to unlock the next grid of challenges.

It's all about finding that perfect racing line.

The problem with this formula isn't that there isn't a variety of missions. There certainly are. There's traditional tournaments where you race 3 or more tracks in a row with the highest scorer winning the gold, time trials of varying laps, speed laps where the goal is to drive as fast of a lap as possible, endurance races where the object is to survive on a track as long as you can while you perpetually speed up, head-to-head races against one other opponent, and finally eliminator death-match races where it's every man for himself. So no, the problem is not the variety of missions. The problem is the variety of tracks initially available. There's sixteen tracks in all, and each one has two versions, one normal and one where you drive around it the opposite way. With each new grid you unlock, you only open up one new course. This means you're constantly racing 10-15 times on the same courses only with different challenge types. The tracks themselves are very well-designed and have their own personal history highlighted at the start of each race via a voiced introduction cut-scene.

Sixteen tracks with reverse versions
make for a huge amount of locales.

Wipeout Pulse is a lot like F-Zero only with weapons. There's a huge arsenal of offensive and defensive items to use, and they're all balanced. No one item will change the entire scope of a race say with something like Mario Kart Wii. There's shields to ward off attacks, boosts to speed past opponents, missiles, rockets, mines, cluster bombs, auto-pilot, wall-bouncing shurikens, and other colossal weapons. Weapons are picked up by running over a special pad of sorts. Usually these are to the left or right of boost pads which gives the player a choice between weaponry or a boost of speed. That level of strategy makes Pulse a winning racer on that side of the track.

Highway to the danger zone!

Wipeout Pulse plays exactly like the earlier PSP installment of the series, so fans of Wipeout Pure will be able to race right into the action with no problem. The game is your typical futuristic racer will tracks twisting and turning in three dimensions on all axes. You can use items with the square button or use them to heal your ship with circle. Computer opponents use items as well, and your ship will let you know if dangers are ahead or behind you with a verbal warning. It's all about tight cornering, precision, and finding a good line over the vast amount of boost pads littered on tracks to get the gold. The left and right shoulder buttons perform a quick air slide that are great for making sharp turns without losing speed. There's three different camera angles that can be utilized for whatever vantage point you're comfortable with in order to deal with the seven other racers.

Head-to-head races are but one of the many modes in Pulse.

Compared to Pure, Wipeout Pulse has been beefed up with options. You can put up to thirty songs onto your SD card and hear them while racing via the custom playlist option. Anything's better than the bland techno soundtrack permeating as the standard music for Pulse. You can also take photos at anytime during a race, upload them to your computer, or share them with friends. Online is still here with up to eight racers duking it out across the globe. There's also a custom skin editor that you can create your art for your ship online and put it on your racing ship for all to see. The amount of new and old options available is staggering for a portable racing title.

Boost pads are placed at strategically located parts of track.

Presentation has been accelerated, too. Everything is much, much sleeker and feels "higher budget". At the beginning of each race, a narrator explains a bit about the course you're about to race on giving details about its history, length, and more. It's a very cool addition indeed. There's little in the way of slowdown even with all of the carnage that can happen on the track. Lighting is impressive with cool transitions between inside and outside pieces of track. Vehicles and tracks are gorgeous to look at, and it's really amazing how Sony Liverpool packed all of this visual beauty into a PSP game.

Getting vertical in Metropia.

Wipeout Pulse is a fantastic racer with hours upon hours of replay value. The single-player alone will take upwards of countless days just to achieve a gold rank in every challenge (even if playing through it can be monotonous), and the online gameplay adds even more into the mix. Those looking for a fast-paced racer with tons of content need not look any further than Wipeout Pulse for the PSP. The pulse is beating strong with this one.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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