When you look back over the catalogue of PlayStation generations past, one developer and series has always been there, often multiple times on each console; Studio Liverpool’s WipEout series has become synonymous with the PlayStation brand, a racer that is always associated with Sony’s consoles as it shows what the hardware can do, whilst also being the pinnacle of high-octane racing. Indeed, WipEout HD and its Fury expansion are, for me, the standout racing titles on the PlayStation 3, and now Studio Liverpool has cast its magic with WipEout 2048 to Sony’s newest platform, the PlayStation Vita.
In many respects, WipEout 2048 is a very different game to its predecessor, it attempts to broaden the appeal of the franchise to new, broader audiences as well as introduce a different campaign structure. While accessibility has become synonymous with “dumbing down” this console generation, a lot of the changes Studio liverpool has made to the core WipEout formula are for the best, although there are the expected quirks along the way.
Fans of WipEout HD will no doubt know how much of a visual showcase the downloadable anti-grav racer is, with its heavy futuristic style simply a joy to view in motion. WipEout 2048 makes a departure from the ultra-modern aesthetics of its bigger brother, and instead goes for a much more mechanical interpretation. WipEout 2048, as the name suggests, is set in 2048, making it the earliest in the WipEout timeline; this allowed Studio Liverpool to make the style a little more close to realism. The anti-grav racers are very much in their infant form, and this can be seen through their styling and sound.
This difference in tone can be seen in the tracks too, with many of the tracks, especially earlier ones a hybrid of futuristic tracks in ultra-modern cities, grassy areas, hard and broken tarmac, and long, steel bridges with speed pads bolted on. This allows the developers to widen the tracks too, a way of making the game more accessible. It’s a stunning style, and some of the tracks, in particular the masterpiece that is Sol, are absolutely gorgeous in their design.
Aside from the new tone, WipEout 2048 is definitely a very competent game visually; textures look rich, the car models are well designed and the game looks really clean overall. One worry which WipEout veterans might have, and one that I admit I found jarring, at least initially coming from WipEout HD, is the reduced framerate. Whereas HD ran at a solid 60 fps, 2048 halves that and runs at, a still smooth, 30 fps. It will drop below that from time to time when the screen is very hectic, but mostly it behaves well.
Aurally, WipEout 2048 may very well be the strongest of the series. You only have to put on a decent set of headphones and listen to the mechanical hum of the engines, combined with the futuristic squeal to realise that the audio in 2048 is something special. The soundtrack is pleasantly surprising too; as an admitted music snob, I found the dance/trance soundtracks surprisingly enjoyable, and it suits the game’s motif extremely well. Usually a good dance soundtrack in a game will leave me indifferent, but it was so crucial to the mode of 2048, I really got into it.
As a racer, there are few games better than the WipEout series, and that carries over to 2048, along with some improvements that change the tactical nature of its races. For instance, where weapon pads would be one colour in HD, a red ‘X’, in 2048 there are two different weapon pads; offensive weapons, which are yellow, and defensive weapons, which are green. Offensive weapons include rockets, missiles, machine guns etc., while their defensive counterparts come in the shape of mines, shields and leach beams. It’s such a simple change, and adds a lot more tactically to the game’s races, particularly the combat races. If you’re on low health, you know to go to the defensive pads to pick something up, but if you’re very much on the offensive, picking up a good weapon can score you some points or a higher place. It removes the cases where you’d go over a weapon pad in HD and get a shield when you want to take someone out, or get taken out on low health because you’ve picked up a missile instead of a shield.
In 2048, the ships are divided into different subclasses, as opposed to just having different skins for them. There are now classes, which include: Speed – your standard racers, Agility – better handling ships but slightly slower, Fighter – which have higher health and can fire more rockets at once for combat races, and the special prototype ships – which are hidden around the campaign map, and have special features. The Feisar prototype, for example, starts out slower than other ships, but its top speed permanently increases for the duration of the race as you go over speed pads, allowing you to break the speed class of the race. The speed classes in 2048 have changed too; gone are the HD names of speed classes, like Venom, Rapier etc., now the different classes are simply D, C, B, A, A+ and Mach 1, each one increasing the velocity over the other. It’s much easier to understand this way, but I do miss the more inventive and slick names of old.
Speaking of the campaign, aside from online, the campaign is where you’ll do most of your racing in WipEout 2048, due to the lack of a racebox mode, a curious omission, and a big flaw in the game, considering the structure of the campaign. Being able to just pick a track, car and race type was a lot of fun, and near essential if you want to master the tracks. Without that, you’ll have to go in blind to campaign races, and with opponents on the track at the same time the complicated tracks can be really difficult to master. Another problem is that the campaign map doesn’t show the track until you tap on the event, so if you want to find a specific track, you’ll have to tap on each event until you find it, and that’s a hassle.
The online play is a bit disappointing in some respects too. Again, you can’t really just pick a 2048 track, event type and ship and just matchmake, instead there is an online campaign like the single player campaign with a list of events, which when you tap on them will matchmake you with other players for that event, and you have to play these events to move on. The cross-platform play option gives you more of a choice in that respect, but there are some annoyances with that too, namely that the European version of WipEout HD hasn’t been patched to enable that. There’s also a curious bug, wherein if you go into the cross-patform play menu and use the PS button to suspend it, when you go back in there won’t be a way to leave that menu and you’ll have to restart the game fully.
WipEout 2048 is a very competent launch game for the PlayStation Vita, and is even a contender for best launch game on the system. It feels great to play, it looks extremely pretty in motion, there some really minimalistic but gorgeous menu design choices, and the many additions and changes they have made work really well; however it’s hampered by some curious design flaws. A lack of a racebox mode is a major disappointment, there are some problems with the online offerings and the campaign structure is unintuitive. With some tinkering by the way of patches, these are issues that could be fixed, and the load times that were a huge problem at launch have been severely reduced. While it may not quite live up to the heights of WipEout HD Fury, if you’re a WipEout fan it’s an unmissable title, and it’s a great entry to the series for anyone else.