Reviewed April 2008 by Jacob Spindel
The WipEout series is so well known to most gamers that it hardly needs an introduction. However, here’s a quick synopsis just in case you’ve been cryogenically frozen for the last ten years: in the future, hovering vehicles race against each other on three-dimensional tracks while picking up weapons and other items. Try to finish first without blowing up. Still, even though it is a longstanding series including numerous previous games, the latest installment for PSP, WipEout Pulse, still has some new tricks up its virtual sleeve. Ultimately, the game does indeed have enough innovations and excitement to satisfy veteran gamers and newbies alike.
A Racing Pulse
Like previous WipEout games, WipEout Pulse has multiple race types, including single races, tournaments, head to head matches, time trials, speed laps, and zone challenges (in which you drive as long as you can before your ship is destroyed). Twelve tracks are included, along with eight different teams (vehicles), seven of which have appeared in previous games. However, unlike previous WipEout games, the various types of races have been grouped into 16 grids. Each grid contains several events of different types, and in order to advance to the next grid, you must earn enough total points in the current grid by winning medals in the races. Since some previous WipEout games could feel a little disorganized or “aimless,” the grids are a major improvement, providing you with a clear set of sequential goals that encompasses all the different race types, although it seems a bit odd that all events are weighted equally (for example, winning a gold medal in a 12-race tournament is worth the same amount of points as winning a gold medal in a single-race event). Another new feature is that the tracks are reversible.
WipEout Pulse also introduces a new race type, the Eliminator, which I found to be a lot of fun. Anyone who has played a previous WipEout game is probably familiar with the sinister glee you experience upon shooting down another racer and hearing the announcer say, “Contender Eliminated.” Well, at long last, WipEout has a type of level where shooting down your competitors is the primary goal! In an Eliminator level, the racers are set loose on the track, and the first racer to score a certain number of kills (usually 10) is the winner. Your speed doesn’t really matter, and even if you blow up, you just respawn; all that really matters is scoring enough kills, almost as if the ships from WipEout were playing Quake 3 Arena with each other.
Some types of weapons have returned from previous WipEout games, such as bombs, mines, the plasma gun, earthquakes, and targeting missiles, along with related items like autopilot and shields. WipEout Pulse also features some cool new weapons, such as a gun with 30 shots included, which literally allows you to just open fire on the competition. Eliminator races add even more new weapons, such as a repulser that shoots a powerful shockwave down the track. If you played the previous PSP WipEout game, WipEout Pure, you may be familiar with the disruption mine, a weapon that stymies players essentially by interfering with a their vision and controls, practically annoying them to death; thankfully, this time around, the disruption mine has been “wiped out.”
Yet another cool new feature in WipEout Pulse is an idea called absorption. In previous WipEout games, there was no way to recharge your ship after it sustained damage, and there was also no way to discard a weapon without triggering it, so if you acquired a weapon that you didn’t really want to use, you didn’t really have a choice. WipEout Pulse combines these two problems into a single solution: any time you pick up a weapon, you can choose either to fire it or to absorb its energy, which recharges your ship instead of activating the weapon. Using weapons effectively is still one of your greatest tools for fighting your way ahead of other racers, so the opportunity to find an effective balance between firing and absorbing adds a new level of strategy to the game that can ultimately increase your overall skill and ability to win races. (Sony has wisely disabled absorption in Eliminator rounds, since otherwise you might be stuck with boring marathon matches that would never end.)
In case you didn’t quite comprehend all the new features on the first try, you can view the game’s instruction manual at any time from the pause screen. This feature is so handy, and so obvious, that you’d think all PSP games would have it, but unfortunately very few of them actually do.
Probably the most hyped new feature of WipEout Pulse is the availability of new features online at www.WipEout-game.com. It is certainly a cool idea to be able to design and share your own ship skins, as well as purchasing new ships and tracks, but ultimately these features fall a little short of the hype. The skin editor is inflexible and difficult to use, and overall, the game’s online features are overcomplicated and hard to navigate.
WipEout Pulse supports multiplayer mode over both ad-hoc and infrastructure WiFi.
The tracks in WipEout Pulse are enormous, three-dimensional locations with an impressively high level of detail. The game’s graphics also include atmospheric effects such as intermittent rain, along with cool lighting and explosion effects from the various types of weapons. The only negative aspect of the visual effects is that they just haven’t changed very much since WipEout Pure for PSP. However, the graphics still look good and hold up pretty well overall.
Like previous WipEout games, WipEout Pulse features powerful sound effects for its weapons, as well as an announcer that alerts you when the weapons are being fired at you. (An on-screen icon is also displayed for incoming weapons - a new feature that is handy if you have the sound off). Also similarly to previous WipEout games, WipEout Pulse features several music tracks from various artists, but the variety of music just doesn’t have very much... variety. Pretty much all the tracks are in the same, light-techno style, and most of them are not especially catchy.
With all the customizable web features in WipEout Pulse, you’d think Sony would’ve included customizable music, or at least a wider variety of styles for the built-in tracks. This game could’ve done a lot more with its audio features, but the music included is at least good enough to fit the mood and keep you energized, and it probably won’t send you scrambling for the mute button.
Get A Pulse
Although WipEout is a well-known franchise that had several hit titles, Sony would like you to believe that WipEout Pulse is still worth getting because of the game’s new online features. It turns out that the game definitely is worth getting - but not exactly for the online features, which are more gimmicky than anything else. Instead, subtle innovations like eliminators, absorption, and grids successfully fine tune the experience to make it even more fun (and previous WipEout games were already pretty enjoyable). With cool improvements like these, even if you think that everybody already knows WipEout, WipEout Pulse makes it worthwhile to get to know the series one more time.
Hints and Tips
-Unless you have full energy already or are facing imminent danger, it is better to absorb shields than to activate them. It doesn’t really make sense to choose a possibility of preventing future damage over a guarantee of repairing existing damage.
-Bombs and mines are not very effective weapons. Absorb them unless you are being tailgated. Meanwhile, the plasma gun can be devastating to an enemy, but it is also hard to aim and contains tremendous amount of energy if absorbed - so absorb it unless you have a relatively clear shot at a specific target.
-In Eliminator rounds, the Leech Beam can be extremely powerful and dangerous. If you start leeching another vehicle, then stay as close to that vehicle as possible (even if it means slowing down) and try to keep the beam active, and you will eventually destroy the other vehicle. If someone else leeches you, remember that any weapon in an Eliminator can be converted into a shield (by pressing Absorb), and also try to get as far away as possible from the leecher.
-Avoid hanging on to any weapon item for longer than necessary. Any time you spend carrying an item around is also time when you cannot pick up any additional items.