WipEout 2048 Review [PS Vita]

Despite a couple of fairly serious limitations, the newest addition to the WipEout family is frenetic, visually stunning fun.


What seems like a lifetime ago, Sony's Playstation launched with the first WipEout title, a high-octane, neon-tinted glimpse into an adrenaline soaked future and its exhilarating anti-gravity racing league, and fans were instantly turned on to the furious pace and intoxicating visuals of the Psygnosis racer. Jump forward more than 16 years later and the franchise's latest, now under the stewardship of Studio Liverpool, launched Sony's latest console - the handheld Vita, and despite some notable changes, it is still fundamentally almost the same gameplay experience that gripped fans as far back as 1995. The game is set in 2048, during the early years of the anti-gravity racing league, and before the world becomes the ultra-futuristic environment of older, though chronologically later WipEout games. But despite the differences in the environment, which still bears visible links to our own urban environments, the gameplay is largely the same as it has always been: the impetus is on fast-paced racing, well-timed manouevres and the kind of opponent bashing that always made WipEout feel like the more serious sci-fi cousin of Mario Kart. Tracks continue to feature speed boosters, as well as colour-coded pick-up pads (green for defensive items, yellow for offensive), while the lay-outs still feel appropriately on brand with the other games in the series. Basically speaking, anyone who has picked up a controller and played any of the earlier editions will feel completely at home here, even with the wildcard of the new console to play on. Having said that Studio Liverpool have brought in some new touches: the decision to offer both defensive and offensive collectibles is something I always felt Mario Kart and other WipEout games lacked, especially when the player's learning curve had reached the stage that they spent most of their time with no opponents ahead of them, a moving target/sitting duck for opportunist opponents with projectiles. It adds a new level of skill, which is invariably a good thing for an established game franchise. The single player campaign takes in three seasons of racing, moving through the different speed classes as the player progresses, and while the ten tracks on offer isn't exactly a huge number, the game supplements traditional racing with a host of other modes, from races through to usual suspects like time trials, zone races and combat challenges. There is also the added appeal of multiplayer content, with all of the tracks from WipEout HD available to Vita users through Sony's cross-play functionality which will surely be utilised more with future releases. There is of course a slight compromise - the Vita version plays at 30 frames - but it is a limitation trumped by the bonus of having more tracks available. The multiplayer campaign is reasonably diverting, and the traditional racing experience is again supplemented well by the addition of in race challenges that offer the player specific achievable objectives that coming first isn't the be-all and end-all of races, and rewards can be picked up for other achievements like taking down an opponent. One draw-back of the multiplayer is that Studio Liverpool have decided to limit the time a player spends in lobbies waiting to be matched up to other online players by completely removing optional race conditions like the track or the speed class. It makes sense for the benefits to slickness, but customability has now long been a major part of online play, and fans will find it frustrating to be lead into events so blindly. This is all made more frustrating when it comes to party play: even though playing in the company of chosen opponents (presumably friends), there is no option to customise any race conditions at all, and without supplemental AI opponents, small group play becomes very tiresome very quickly. Having said that, a compromise that speeds things up isn't necessarily a bad thing in all cases, because waiting around is even more frustrating, which makes the 30 second plus load times leading into offline races a fairly major stumbling block for this game. On a system as impressively powerful as the Vita, watching a load bar tick slowly on feels uncomfortably archaic. The only other real problem comes in elements of the track design: a race game based on speed should make concessions to the player through simple, readable track designs, and 2048 fails at times to offer it. Generally darker tracks, and ambiguous upcoming sections, thanks to cluttered design (an unfortunate result of the move towards realism) make reading the environments far more difficult than any WipEout game before, and the limitation is one that will be overcome by familiarity with the track rather than actual skill, which is another big limitation. And it's a major shame 2048 has such sizeable problems: though they are few, their effect on what is otherwise a very good game - in terms of the stunning visuals, and infectious gameplay - is too much to see it really achieve greatness. It isn't a bad game though, and there is more than enough enjoyment to be had hurtling through the tracks against AI or human opponents to make it well worth a look, even if it doesn't quite meet the heights of former WipEout games, or the likely expectations of veteran fans. WipE0ut 2048 is available to buy now on PS Vita.

WhatCulture's former COO, veteran writer and editor.