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WipeOut HD (PlayStation 3) artwork

WipeOut HD (PlayStation 3) review

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If you are new to the Wipeout franchise like me, Wipeout HD is a futuristic racing game. There's probably something going on in this futuristic racing league in terms of plot. No doubt reminding slightly of movies like Death Race 2000, and animation series Speed Racer. Where the different vehicles represent power- factions displaying their might in a corporate owned dystopia. But when it comes to the setting, it simply exists. This game is only about racing, and anything else will pass by your field of vision at high speed.

My first impression is that the game is unusually strong in terms of graphical fidelity. The design aims for a futuristic, clear look with straight lines and bright colour pallettes. But at the same time, the graphical detail in the game is high enough to avoid making it look as if built by pastel- painted steel bars. Instead, the straight lines curve slightly off into the far distance, and the various shapes decorating the courses become tidy works of art. Whether it is moving scenery such as flying vehicles, slightly curved hexagon glass windows, or impossibly detailed transparent overhangs or city blocks.

So the graphics look pretty at first glance, as well as the second. But they are a technical accomplishment in a different sense as well. Apart from a small number of effects, such as the transparency into the ocean during the underwater tunnel stage at Vineta K, and some of the advertisement signs placed around the tracks - it is all generated in real time. Which allows models to move more freely, and camera- angles to be less restrictive - without causing graphical glitches and inconsistencies in lighting, or other effects. The ambient lights act the same way, even as complex as the tracks and ships are - and it's easy to admire how lighting effects will not be exclusively local on the track, but flow between scenery, ship and track without breakage.

All of this gives a very dynamic and aesthetically pleasing graphical presentation - actually making it strong and fluid enough not to regularly remind you that you are playing a game, where lighting shines selectively around corners, and physics take a break if you don't look too closely.

Studio Liverpool (earlier: Psygnosis) thankfully link this graphical presentation to a smooth control scheme, so the suspension of disbelief is not wasted the second you start a race. Inheriting from the earlier Wipeout titles, the ship's rudder is still controlled with the analog sticks, and the air- brakes with the shoulder- pads. But the addition of the progressive shoulder pads, and the accelerometer on the ds3 is very welcome, since it opens up for gradual and accurate adjustments of the racing line. Drawing back to the graphics and physics, the ship then drifts naturally in the somewhat lazy camera, whether it is heavy or quick adjustments you are making, along with the subtle air- brake animations and twists. Instead of perhaps snapping into certain animation sequences, or the viewport being forced to follow directly after the ship's movement.

You can map the controls as you would like, though, if you want a tighter scheme. Or you could map the sixaxis control to both the pitch and yaw, for example - and perhaps change the view to inside the cockpit. Even if this particular mode is less suited for beating records, and more appropriate for showing off, it seems. Or getting instant tunnel vision, and perhaps vertigo.

How immersive is this game, then? It's difficult to say. The speed the game runs at is intimidating at first. You will soon find that you are not quick enough to race as you would like to. But because of the precise but fluid control scheme, it's not simply about quick reactions and reflexive button- mashing - but remembering the track, and seeing forwards. So eventually you master that current level, and run into a new barrier somewhere further along. And so on. Until what seemed impossible at first becomes laughably easy. And what was out of reach in turn only becomes impossible.

The progressive difficulty scheme match this thinking as well. So you start with pilot- assists, and aim for the "easy" level. And then increase the difficulty and turn the assist off, as you clear cells, earn points, and unlock new racing events. Which ensures that the challenge of the game stays fresh no matter which level you are on - not simply in terms of beating increasingly difficult stages, or unlocking new online badges - but in terms of pushing yourself and your reaction times to become progressively better.

When running out of challenges, you can move online. Which, again in a technical feat, is in the exact same detail and flow as the offline part of the game. And continue chasing the ghost at the finish line as before.

Keeping with the same theme, the platinum trophy is hilariously named "transcendence". But to be perfectly honest, it's not quite as laughable as it sounds when you finally achieve it. Because the racing high this game will repeatedly give you is immense. It may not be a worthy substitute for speeding properly - but since it is without the added complications and casualties involved in real life, it's certainly not too bad.'s not simply about quick reactions and reflexive button- mashing

Wipeout HD is an at once technical and artistic accomplishment. The art- direction along with the technical run- down alone would make the game notable over any game currently made. It's entirely new, and it shows. But it also adds a fresh dynamic control scheme with a fluid visual response system - that put together helps the immersion surprisingly far along. The game is light in terms of story, of course. But the setting you are in needs no explanation beyond the expressive imagery you're offered on the track.

And then it's just about the race.

-Addendum, 5th of November 2009.

However, as of early November 2009 - along with the blu-ray release of the game - Sony has incorporated obnoxious in-game advertisement clips via stealth-patching. Which increases loading times and cause other technical glitches, even hangs - and distracts from the experience both artistically and otherwise so severely that the title loses much of it's showcase appeal.

-Addendum 3rd of October 2010.

It seems clear now that Sony's in-game advertising network partner Double Fusion has not been able to expand on the initial advertisement experiment in WipeoutHD. As a result, buyers can safely pick up WipEoutHD in any region without being assaulted by immersion and game-breaking advertisement screens. I've updated the game's rating to reflect that.


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Community review by fleinn (September 16, 2009)

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