WipEout HD – Review

Developer: SCE Studio Liverpool
Platform: PS3
Release Date: Sep 2008

Click Here for WipEout HD trailer

When it comes to racing games, I live by a strict code. If it doesn’t feature fuzzy, cartoony mascots that I’m already familiar with (such as Super Mario or Crash Bandicoot), then I’m not interested. Plain and simple, I want to use hilarious and unbelievable weapons to blow up the next racer, who is probably a walrus in dungarees. For me, there is no hook in ‘just’ racing. And while it is somewhat novel being a futuristic hovercraft racer, the only reason I played this game at all is because it was free. Despite my relentless cynicism though, I have to admit: WipEout HD is one of the most fun games I have played in a long time!

The Set-Up:
You pilot an anti-gravity hovercraft, using speed, weapons and a series of manoeuvres to overcome the competition and race to victory on some of the most gravity defying tracks imaginable.

While it has plenty going for it, the thing that WipEout HD can boast better than anything is its incredibly tight controls. You can’t make a high-speed game without have very responsive controls, otherwise the player feels as helpless as kid on a shopping trolley going down the hill by my house until I fell out and broke my arm. You only have to look at some of the more modern Sonic the Hedgehog games to see how disastrous bad controls can be. Luckily, WipEout handles like an absolute dream. Anytime that I crashed my ship, I always felt it was due to my own lack of skill, and never because of shoddy controls. Despite the high-octane twists and turns of the futuristic tracks, they are all entirely manageable for dedicated players.

The other great thing about WipEout, naturally, is its speed. At its best, it will have you physically ducking and weaving on your own couch, leaving you absolutely breathless as you try to get just one more gold medal. Take a quick corner, SPEED BOOST!, up in the air, now do a barrel roll, another SPEED BOOST, suddenly you’re flying upside down on a loop to loop, WEAPONS, blow a contender out-of-the-way, SWERVE, SPEED BOOST, SWERVE, crash, slow down for a second, SPEED BOOST, missiles, VICTORY!
The game honestly moves as quickly as it takes to read that sentence and will leave you genuinely breathless, something many games struggle with so hard to achieve.

As is implied with the HD in the title, there is quite a lot of emphasis placed on the visuals. The graphics are just downright amazing, slick and shiny throughout the whole experience. With the camera moving so fast, you naturally won’t have a lot of time to appreciate the surroundings, but the odd time, when you have about two seconds worth of straight track ahead, you can behold the scale of everything, and how good all the other ships look while in motion. Even the few seconds before the race begins, a point in which most racing games tend to enter ‘bland’ territory (and the crowds are revealed to be cardboard cutouts), WipEout continues to impress, boasting relentless smooth visuals.

What I remain especially surprised with is the how deep WipEout turned out to be, in terms of strategy. There are a large selection of teams to choose from, at least a dozen, all of which have different stats. These boil down to Speed, Thrust, Handling and Shield. At first, it doesn’t matter which ship you choose, as the opening races are all designed for beginners. But as you progress, you will have to pick wisely. If a track has a lot of twists and turns, you may want to favor handling and shields over speed. Likewise, on some of the time trials, you will have no choice but to simply opt for the fastest car and just pray you don’t hit anything! And as your loyalty with the teams builds, new models of ship will become available, exclusive to that team.

The tracks have a number of speed boosts and weapon panels dotted about them as well. An excellent addition to this installment of the series is the ability to absorb your weapon for shield energy. It might cost you the lead, but what good is that if your ship is a charred wreck on the side of the road? You really have to think fast as to which is more important to you. Similarly, there is the option to barrel roll, if you get a bit of air. Apart from looking badass, this gives you an extra speed boost when you land. But Whoa there tiger! There’s a catch. For every barrel roll you perform, it eats through 10% of your shield. Most racing games challenge your speed, but WipEout, it challenges your wits as well.

Oh and hey, there are loads of ways to die in WipEout too! Apart from crashing into the sides of the track (probably the trickiest obstacle to avoid), each ship becomes privy to an expansive arsenal when they fly over the red weapon pads. This ranges from standard (Missiles and Machine guns) to groovy futuristic (Leech beams and Fire waves!). You are also given other power-ups, such as the Super speed boost, Shields and the very handy Auto-pilot. Choosing your moment to use these power-ups is essential, as getting as speed burst at up to 200 miles an hour is never a good idea when turning a corner. (Although luckily, for beginners, there is the new Pilot Assist function, which prevents you from hitting against the track sides. This is a brilliant innovation that eases in even the most ridiculously awful of gamers 🙂 )

There are a number of different race types in the campaign mode, most of which you will be familiar with. But among all the single races, time trials and tournaments, there is a hidden gem that comes in the form of… The Zone. Radically different from the other race types, this sees your ship with maxed out stats and placed on a futuristic track that would not be out-of-place in a Tron movie. There are no other contestants and no timer. The catch?

You control only the ship’s direction, not its speed. As you complete more and more laps, your speed increases higher and higher. Your goal is to survive as long as possible without becoming a pile of scrap metal/crappy interpretive art piece……all while listening to incredibly infectious techno/trance music! All of these modes are incredibly fun, and the game almost never gets boring. Campaign mode is divided into 8 sections, each section consisting of a race grid. You can choose which challenge to participate in, and unlock more as you progress.

Better still, the Novice mode is incredibly challenging but has a deliciously smooth learning curve. Essentially, by the time you’ve completed the game on Novice, you’ll be able to tackle the Veteran mode, and, consecutively, Elite mode. As you progress through the campaign, you can unlock new ships and tracks to play in the Racebox, a mode that allows to play any mode you’ve played before with customizable settings.

Split screening racing is a joy to play with friends and even online play, which a normally despise, is well implemented with only minor lag. The only issue I have with WipEout HD as a package is that there aren’t quite enough tracks. You will notice this as you play through the campaign that, by the time you get to the fifth section, you are replaying the same tracks again and again. It isn’t a deal breaker, not by any means, as they remain relentlessly fun to play. And luckily, the WipEout Fury expansion pack was released a year later and looked like it rectified this issue completely with a plethora of new tracks and even new game modes.

I can barely contain my surprise and joy at how good WipEout HD is and, at a mere €7.99 in the Playstation Store, it just doesn’t make sense for you not to own it. Even as someone who is completely indifferent to racing games, I am completely sold. The only reason you shouldn’t buy it is if you were to buy the WipEout HD Fury expansion pack for €5 euro extra, which I can only assume doesn’t mess with the formula too much. A modern classic and one of the best racing games out there.

Rating: 9/10

Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on, BASTARD!” – Me, while losing

Shamelessly Awful Stuff:

  • Apparently the entire WipEout Fury HD package comes in one retail disc. You should all buy this.
  • The game was originally due to be released in 2007 but was delayed due to ‘technical difficulties’. This was later revealed to be its failure with epilepsy testing.

This game is kind of like:

  • Star Wars: Episode I Podracing, without the creeping sensation that Jar Jar Binks is just around the corner


  • Being Iron Man’s car

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