Thursday, July 10, 2014

Wipeout 2048 (Vita) Review

We seem to be on a miniature kick of launch PlayStation Vita titles. First it was Uncharted: Golden Abyss yesterday, and now it's Wipeout 2048. We wonder, which is the better of the two? If you recall, we gave Uncharted: Golden Abyss an 8.25 out of 10. Will Wipeout 2048 speed past it? Let's find out.

2048 is the number of times I squealed with delight.
Okay, I might be overestimating with that number.


Since Nintendo seems satisfied to leave the F-Zero franchise dormant, despite the outcry of its most ardent fans, there's been a huge hole left by the series. There's a strong demand for a futuristic racing franchise, and where Nintendo won't take up the slack, Sony and SCE Studio Liverpool did with an all-new entry in the popular Wipeout racing series. The PlayStation Vita received a ton of enthralling software at its launch, and one of these titles was Wipeout 2048, the most recent of the Wipeout franchise and sadly the last game SCE Studio Liverpool ever made before its doors were closed. Still, Wipeout 2048 is a game that cements the legacy of Sony's former Liverpool studio as a fantastic and creative bunch of people. Here's why.

Wipeout 2048 is made to be a prequel to the rest of the games in the series. It establishes high speed racing with the series canon, but since F-Zero-like air races are not yet possible, the racing is mostly relegated to the city streets of the game's setting, Nova State City, a loose interpretation of the U.S.'s New York City. The game spans ten tracks across the numerous locales of Nova State City, including races through shopping districts, downtown, the subway system, an outdoor setting similar to Central Park, and a Brooklyn Bridge-esque track.

Out of the subway system
and into the light of day.
Wipeout 2048's single player campaign consists of playing through the first three years of the Anti-Gravity Racing Championships, or A.G.R.C. It's here where you participate in different events, earning experience points in the process and passes depending on how well you performed. Clearing the bare minimum requirement awards you with a pass for that event, while meeting the more challenging requirement gives you an elite pass, offering more experience in the process. An example of a normal pass requirement would be achieving at least fourth place in a race. Meanwhile, an elite pass would require you to finish the race in first place.

Don't mind me. I'm going the pro way
and taking this shortcut!
There's multiple types of events to engage in. Some have you simply racing against seven AI opponents with either weapons on or weapons off. Another has you trying to best a set time in the traditional time trial event. Then there's the Wipeout 2048 exclusive Combat mode, which instead of racing, your objective is to use the weapons you pick up and unleash them on your rivals to score points. Every successful hit earns you points while destroying a ship nets more points. Finally, there's Zone events. These put you on a track with automatic acceleration. All you need to do is steer your ship and stay alive for as long as possible. As you complete more and more zones, the overall speed of your ship escalates.

Don't "zone" out by looking at all
the trippy colors here!
Speaking of speed, the starting events in Wipeout 2048 begin in the D and C classes. These are the slowest of classes, offering a perfect opportunity to get accustomed to the controls and learn each track's shortcuts as well as choking points. As you progress through the trio of years that the A.G.R.C. contains, the classes of races improve, giving a greater sense of speed but also a stronger emphasis on needing to know each track, how to drive the best racing lines, and knowing how to control each ship to the best of your ability.

We got ourselves a barn-burner of a race here!
Wipeout 2048 offers what you'd expect control option-wise. You have your traditional analog stick to steer, shoulder buttons to accelerate and brake, X button to fire weapons, circle to store weapon energy, and square to airbrake, the latter being a godsend in the faster classes. However, in an effort to use the Vita's hardware functionality to its full potential (like many launch titles for the system), SCE Studio Liverpool opted to throw in some unconventional controls as well. For example, you can use the system's built-in gyroscope to steer your ship with tilt controls, tap the touch screen to launch off and absorb weapons picked up along the tracks of the game, and use the back touch pad to accelerate. While it's nice to see an atypical control style used, it's best to stick with what works well, the traditional all-button setup.

Many tracks present multiple paths for
proficient players to take.
Not all races include weapons, but for those that do, there are now two types of weapons in this edition of Wipeout-- offensive and defensive. One is picked up by racing across a yellow pad while the other is nabbed through speeding across a green pad. Offensive weapons give racers items like rockets, missiles, and cannons to fire off and launch at opponents while the defensive weapons generally give players occupying the first place position means to ward off prospective usurpers or help restore energy to lethargic ships. These are items like boosts, mines, and more.

No time to admire the view;
I have a race to win!
Wipeout 2048 possesses an online multiplayer campaign that is somewhat similar in structure to what is found offline. Races and combat challenges aren't just for those wanting to get first place, but they also feature different objectives for players to aspire to meeting and completing. Whether it's simply finishing a race while making sure to hit at least one other player with a weapon or finishing in the top half of the leaderboard, the online multiplayer brings a nice twist to the formula. Even beginning players can feel like they are making progress even if they continue to finish dead last in each and every race. Some might think this is reminiscent of a youth baseball team getting a trophy for just participating despite losing, but if it means more players online, then so be it.

In addition to the the online campaign, players can also hop online and compete against PS3 owners who have Wipeout HD and its expansion pack, Wipeout HD Fury. This means the pool of racers expands even further, making it able to find someone even if and when the online competition of 2048 is slim pickings at best.

Speed through city streets, malls, parks,
bridges, and more in Wipeout 2048.
Wipeout 2048 is a feast for the eyes, delivering impressive and silky smooth visuals that are full of environmental details. Even though you're speeding 'round at the speed of sound (okay, maybe not that fast, but I wanted to make a rhyme regardless), you can easily see what obstacles, turns, and whatnot lie ahead of you, which was something I worried about with the Vita's smallish screen and the game's abundance of objects and background eye candy to gawk at. Perhaps the only squabble with the performance of Wipeout 2048 is the long loading times when initially starting up a race. This can last upwards of 30-40 seconds. Thankfully, retrying races doesn't take anywhere near as long.

It's sometimes a treat to just marvel
at the beauty of Wipeout 2048.
The music of Wipeout 2048 is something I can take or leave. It's mostly electronic, and it's mostly forgettable, albeit suitable for this game. Truth be told, I simply opted to play my own music while racing in the game. There's something particularly odd about zooming about in a Wipeout game while listening to music from the F-Zero series...

Wipeout 2048 gives players and perspective entrants of the A.G.R.C. a blistering fast ride from beginning to end. The single player campaign presents players with a wide array of varying tasks to accomplish and a steady difficulty curve. Meanwhile, the online offers those who try it out further longevity, as well as a multitude of opportunities to earn experience, unlock new vehicles, and share some great times with friends and total strangers. Although it's extremely depressing that SCE Studio Liverpool was shut down, it's at least comforting to know that it didn't go down with a whimper but instead with a bang with Wipeout 2048, a sensational futuristic racer.

[SPC Says: 9.0/10]

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