Despite its multiplatform roots, Wipeout has been exclusively associated with Sony platforms since Wipeout 3 in 1999. In fact, there has been a Wipeout for every PlayStation - a trend the Vita has no plans of bucking, with Wipeout 2048 being a key launch title.
Not familiar with the series? If you like things that are fast, I suggest you get acquainted with it. After all, what's faster than a bunch of high-tech rockets, floating above the track thanks to anti-gravity? That, in a nutshell, is at the core of the Wipeout experience. Mix in highly vertical tracks, a myriad of shortcuts, weapons, and the combination of a high-tech visual aesthetic and a driving electronica soundtrack and you get a signature experience that's quite unlike any other.
Wipeout 2048, despite being the latest in the series, is set right at the very beginning of the Wipeout timeline. Anti-gravity racing has just started and you're invited to participate in the inaugural season. When we met with the developers at Gamescom last year, they went to great lengths to explain how the art direction was going to explain this narrative by way of a layered city aesthetic, with new stuff built on top of old stuff. While I'm certain I'd never have spotted this if I wasn't informed of it by passionate artists, that level of detail is genuinely present in the backgrounds that you whizz past at 300MPH.
And what backgrounds they are. The game might only run at 30FPS (compared to the 60FPS achieved by Wipeout HD on PS3) but the visuals... in a nutshell, Wipeout looks phenomenal. It's still early in the life of the system, so it's hard to get a gauge on how it might compare to other Vita titles, but what is clear is this: Wipeout 2048 looks stunning. Every detail, from the amazing ship designs to the richly detailed cityscapes each track winds its way through, remains true to the Design Republic aesthetic laid down in the original game. Right out of the gate, Sony's new machine has a flagship title to demonstrate the visual power it's packing.
If audio is your thing, you'll be pleased to hear that Wipeout 2048 is no slouch in this department either. The excellent soundtrack features driving tunes from the likes of deadmau5, Underworld, The Prodigy, and Kraftwerk. The 14 tracks are each ideally suited to riding a rocket at the edge of control through a futuristic landscape and deserve to be heard, so be sure to turn it up nice and loud - ideally with a set of decent headphones connected.
Technically, it's not without its quirks however. One such niggle is just how long it takes to load between tracks. At some 50-odd seconds, this length of time would be considered extended on a home console; for a portable, it's excruciating. If you're on a bus and only going a couple of stops, chances are good you won't reach for Wipeout as your time waster; by the time it loads into a track, you'll probably be at your destination.
There has already been a patch released for the game that claims to address this, however little improvement is evident. Without breaking out the stopwatch to compare, it still feels far too long, which is a shame.
Campaign mode is a well-structured affair in which you must complete a series of objectives in order to unlock access to the next one. It's separated into seasons (2048 is in fact just the first of several), and occasionally some side objectives will open up, allowing you to complete option objectives for bonus XP (leveling up unlocks new ships).
Objectives range from the "achieve at least fifth place" type typically seen in race events to scoring a certain number of points in combat events or getting to a certain level in the trippy "ever increasing in speed" zone mode. The types of events, while race-heavy (which makes sense), are well spaced out, ensuring that completing the campaign never feels dull or samey. There's also the option to try and achieve an Elite pass in an event, rather than just a pass, which earns you more XP and ensures there's a reason to revisit your season once you've otherwise completed it.
There are multiple control modes on offer, including the de-rigeur motion controlled variety, however the default method (sticks to steer, face buttons to use or consume powerups, L and R buttons to airbrake) work extremely well and don’t take long to adjust to. The steering itself will likely take a little longer to get used to, if you're more inclined to race things with wheels on them, but you'll find yourself taking aggressive lines through tight corners in no time.
Track design, while universally excellent, definitely trends towards the difficult. The opening few tracks flow beautifully with wide, gradual corners, however later tracks will tease and confound you with clever placement of extremely tight bends (or even groupings of bends) on which success will depend on practise rather than pure instinct. It's never cruel, though, as even initially confounding corner setups can be overcome with the application of both skill and time. Just be warned, while the first season - 2048 - is easy to breeze through, things ramp up quickly from there...
The game also sports a number of different multiplayer modes, including the awesome capability of playing cross-platform with Wipeout HD owning PlayStation 3 pals. We were unable to test the latter, however simply playing around online to earn XP and obliterate people from around the world is as much fun as it sounds.
Obviously, as we're playing the game before it's readily available, our ability to fully test this out was limited. What we can see of it, however, as well as what we've played at industry events in the past (including cross-platform play with the PS3), suggests that Wipeout fanatics are going to be spending a lot of time in this mode.
Wipeout 2048 isn't just one of the best launch games (an achievement in itself, as the standard is very high), it's also one of the best games in an excellent series. If you like racing, grab it day one. If you like Wipeout and are undecided about whether to get a Vita, your decision just got that much easier. If the Vita continues to feature games of this sort of class, it's going to be something very special indeed. Highly recommended!