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Wipeout Pulse (PSP) artwork

Wipeout Pulse (PSP) review

"Unique track elements set it apart from other titles in the series and also served as building blocks 4 future editions."

I did most of my Wipeout Pulse playing a few years ago back when the PSP was still going strong. I had played it a lot, but had not quite done everything before I moved onto Wipeout HD. I am not a huge racing game fan, but Wipeout is one of my favorite game series. Wipeout HD is easily one of my favorite games of all time, and it is high up on that list. Recently I have been playing lots of portable games during my lunch breaks at work and I got it into my head that I should try to finish up Pulse. All I had to do was finish up a bunch of the higher-class hard mode races. And here I am a few weeks later with a full review.

Wipeout Pulse is the follow up to the PSP launch title Wipeout Pure, which is a truly stand out game in the series. Pure is an intensely fast and balanced to a “t” racer which revived the Wipeout series and led directly to the development of both Pulse and Wipeout HD, which features race tracks from both Pure and Pulse. The Wipeout games are futuristic racers where you race hydrofoil-like hovercraft. You can pick up weapons and items by running over special areas of the track, and get speed boosts by running over big arrows on the track.

Wipeout Pulse is no different than its predecessors in basic concept but features a wealth of content and modes. The main singleplayer mode, called campaign mode, takes you through different sets of races called grids. Grids are hexagonal layouts of different racing events you can participate in. You earn points for competing in the events and can unlock new grids by getting enough points. There are many types of events on the grids; single races, multi-race tournaments, time trials, speed laps, one on one races, eliminator matches (where you must destroy a certain number of opponents with weapons rather than win a race), and the return of the uber-cool zone mode, which has you trying to survive for as long as possible as your craft continuously speeds up.

The racetracks of Pulse have a unique feel. Wipeout Pure's tracks were all about hitting as many jumps as you could so that you could perform barrel roll maneuvers to gain speed boosts. That technique is still possible in Pulse, but the focus this time around is on using mag-strips. These electro-magnetized sections of the track keep your ship glued tight in place, allowing for roller coaster like-loops and trippy turns on twisted tracks that you would slip right off of normally. These strips are often found on non-inverted sections of the track as well, and you'll have to learn about how they subtly affect you handling and performance. I really like this addition mainly because it makes the tracks feel a lot different than Pure's. Pure is an amazing, amazing game, but I want innovation and difference in my sequels, and the mag-strips really help to distinguish the two games play styles.

Ship handling is pretty similar in this game to other iterations. The analog nub is as amazing a control input as ever, allowing for an incredibly precise control of your ship. Once again you will be using both left and right air brakes to help you make turns, as well as quick side-shift maneuvers to help line yourself up for those stomach churning twists that Wipeout is famous for.

Races, especially on higher speed classes, can be chaotic affairs. Knowing the tracks well and using weapons efficiently are key. Learning how to fire each of the weapons to score a hit that then allows you to make a pass is a combination of art and a science. And the mental game of staying cool under pressure and waiting for your opening are all part of the meta you'll develop between you and your PSP. You'll get shot a lot in this game, and it can set you way back in the pack. You'll also have the stress of taking incredibly tight and twisting turns while grinding against multiple opponents and being shot and dodging mines and weapons and trying to go off the line to hit speed boosters. There is a lot going on, and keeping your head to find your leverage is how you will win at the higher difficulties and the truly dizzying Phantom Class speeds that are thrown at you in the late game. This is a game of tight finishes, stolen victories, amazing comebacks, and devastating mistakes. Picking the right ship for the job is important too. You might stick with a favorite for awhile only to find that certain race types or speeds favor another ship you wouldn't have considered running before.

As usual the aesthetic of the game is stunning. The tracks go through futuristic cities, island nature preserves, bizarre track constructs, and much more. The ships themselves are incredibly sleek and beautiful. They are really professional, like they were designed by actual engineers or something. And the UI and menu aesthetic is dreamy as usual. Everything is so cohesive and slick in the menus. Just as in most Wipeout games the UI is literally better than most professional products like Apple OS's or Windows.

Going right along with that is the typically perfect line-up of absolutely top-notch licensed electronic tracks. Wipeout games are, to me, the pinnacle of gaming soundtracks, and the tracks here, which range from panic-inducingly intense to buttery smooth, are no exception. Over and over again you'll find what you are hearing goes along perfectly with what you are doing, be it cruising through an extremely difficult turn with grace and ease after multiple practice laps or just barely surviving an onslaught of ordinance as you smash your way through a thick crowd of opponents.

The game's time trials do not seem as tightly balanced as those in Pure. The hardest hard modes are definitely not as hard as those found in HD. However, Pulse is still an extremely well balanced and challenging game. As usual for Wipeout, you'll notice some AI cheating. For instance, in the second to fastest game mode, you may notice your opponents recovering from weapons fire pretty dang quickly. And in tournament modes, the AI will make certain rivals win or lose to keep the overall runnings tighter. I don't really mind this as both of these cheats are designed to give you the player a better experience, and they do. Plus whether the game cheats in your favor or against it, it never holds your hand and lets you win, and it never makes things impossible for you either. It's not afraid to kick your butt or challenge you steeply, but also doesn't let you blow it out of the water or run away with a cheap victory.

Wipeout Pulse is another amazing entry in this truly storied series. True its not quite as good as Pure or HD, but it is right there in same lexicon with them. Like those titles, it is a masterclass in racing action, mechanical and UI aesthetic, soundtrack curation, and game balance. It's unique track elements set it apart from other titles in the series and also served as building blocks for future editions. It's a truly great game, and if you are looking for portable Wipeout action, it's a beautiful thing. It's a 5 out of 5.


Robotic_Attack's avatar
Community review by Robotic_Attack (November 14, 2015)

Robotic Attack reviews every game he plays... almost.

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Germ posted November 14, 2015:

Never got into this one, despite loving what's come before and after. Curious, why the number 4 instead of "for" in the blurb at the top?
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honestgamer posted November 14, 2015:

It's just a guess, but I would imagine he ran into a character count issue. The character count limit is in place to make it easier for people to share reviews on social media, so people have to choose their words carefully if they have a lot to say.
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Robotic_Attack posted November 19, 2015:

It's a reference to hoping for a Wipeout 4! Just kidding, it's totally because I ran out of characters

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