Wipeout HD is an exclusively downloadable title for the PS3. I think that it’s actually the first title of such a large franchise to hit the Playstation Network (PSN in short) Store while not being available in regular brick-and-mortar retail outlets. You’d start to wonder why exactly, as there’s people like me who’d certainly pay for Wipeout HD on shiny Blu-Ray, the PS3′s defacto disc format.
Wipeout HD is an extraordinary title. As a fan of role-playing, tactical strategy and shooter games, I tend to shun all sport and racing titles. Wipeout HD, however, is not like any other game. Not just because of its sublime graphics, that are rivaled by practically no other title on its platform, but also because of the general attention to detail in the design and UI, the addictive gameplay, and even the sheer atmosphere that it contains. Although the title is criticized for ‘only’ having 8 racing tracks, which are re-made versions from the earlier Playstation Portable titles, it really feels like no other title previously released under the ‘Wipeout’ moniker. Never breaking a sweat or dropping framerate, and best enjoyed on a massive LCD or plasma TV, Wipeout HD convincingly puts you in the pilot’s seat of some of the fastest racing machines ever conceived.
Powered, as usual, by great electronic music by the likes of Kraftwerk, Booka Shade, and NOISIA, the game sucks you in immediately. It offers a sharp, minimalist UI that is perfectly futuristic. After a few taps on your controller you can select a track from the campaign ‘grid’ (an arrangement of hexagons) and get racing. Going from Venom, the slowest speed class, to Phantom, the fastest speed class, is like switching to a wholly different game. Without a firm grip on the game’s complex ‘flying’ mechanics and fast reflexes, Phantom is completely impossible (assuming you disable the newbie-friendly ‘pilot assist’ feature, which steers you on-course automatically but also reduces your speed).
With the recently-introduced ‘Zone’ mode, you can even race against your own reflexes, as the game landscape switches to a digital neon-glow, covered in throbbing equalizer visuals that respond to the music playing and you get tasked to steer your way to the highest possible ‘zone’. Each minute, the speed increases as the zone counter is incremented to the point that you have no way to respond in time and destroy your craft. It’s stunningly exhilarating, and I found myself playing it for a few hours while first playing the game with the sweat dripping off my hands. It’s still my favorite playing mode.
To illustrate my point, here is a video that works towards the higher ‘zones’ in Zone mode. I suggest turning off sound as the author has what’s now being referred to ‘Youtube syndrome’, characterized by the insurmountable urge to put loud, obnoxious music tracks on videos.
Also a shining light in the dark cesspool of commonly screwed up features in console games is the multiplayer feature, which works quite well, and allows up to eight players to butt heads without latency issues. Since the latest patch, the issue of hanging around in a lobby forever while waiting for a game host to start the races has also been resolved. It’s a real joy to cut off and crash your opponent’s Assegai craft into the towering skyscrapers of the grand Chengzou Project dive while barrel-rolling into the narrow tunnel opening. But of course you’re also free to stroll around the drop-dead gorgeous tracks with some friends at a lower speed class.
The best part? Wipeout HD is only 20 bucks. If you have a PS3 and a credit card, you owe it to yourself to simply get it to check it out. If you like a good high-paced game, you simply cannot go wrong with this one. If you are up for playing a little tournament, my PSN ID can be found in the blog sidebar. Happy flying!