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TVG jumps into another FEISAR anti-grav racer, and speeds around Liverpool Studio's latest WipEout...
A brand synonymous with PlayStation (aside from a brief fling in the 1990s on Nintendo 64, Saturn, and PC), the WipEout franchise has taken something of a back seat in recent years. Despite four instalments for the original PlayStation, just a single edition ever found its way onto PS2, and the series now finds itself 'relegated' onto PSP - that is until Sony unveils the PlayStation3 debut in the coming weeks/months.
One of the key titles for the PSP's launch line up when it arrived in Europe back in 2005, WipEout Pure managed to dial back time to provide gamers with a taste of what the franchise had been missing for a number of years: a feeling of undiluted speed. Two years on, and SCE Worldwide's Liverpool outfit are in the process of bringing a second instalment to the Sony handheld, this time subtitled 'Pulse'. But is it shaping up to get the heart racing, or is it looking like it'll stall on the starting grid?
Under Starter's orders
The structure of the single player campaign is being taken in something of a new direction for Pulse, with a number of 'Grids' (made up of a mix of pre-determined race types) that unlock as players accumulate points through the course of the game. Short tournaments and single races are joined by the usual assortment of race types such as Time Trials and Speed events, though the recurring standalone event Zone (where players race around a track until their shield runs out and they explode) is integrated fully into the main campaign for the first time. An Eliminator mode and a 'one on one' Head-to-Head mode also join the line up, completing a decent variety of race options for gamers. Players can also change the level of AI of opponents before an event, though the speed classes of the anti-grav ships (Venom, Flash, and the incredibly quick Phantom) are pre-selected according to the specific races.
Being a preview build of the game, only a selection of tracks have been made available so far, but it's still clear to see how much further Liverpool Studio has been able to push the PSP second time around. Thanks to 'Mag-Strip' technology, the racetracks in Pulse not only feature fast and hard corners, but also high-angled banks, upside-down sections, and substantial gradient drops, enabling the team to develop some truly imaginative designs. If the rest of the twenty-four brand new tracks follow the same sort of tact, then Pulse will certainly push the level of frantic racing associated with the WipEout of old.
Besides more creative track designs, it also seems that Liverpool Studio have been hard at work trying to improve the visual flair of the game. Additional touches to the weapon effects as they rain down towards an opponent, or when they rain down upon your own track, and a HUD that shakes around with every impact with the track or track wall, are just a couple of extra details the game will throw at players later in the Autumn. Some of the changes seen in its predecessor, such as 'absorbing' the power in any of the picks ups along the track, are back - but all indications are that Pulse will be a natural evolution for the portable life of the franchise. The trademark licensed soundtrack that sent the franchise into the stratosphere back in the mid-1990s will of course also continue, this time featuring the likes of Kraftwerk, Loco Dice, and Mist - though hopefully the likes of The Chemical Brothers will continue their long-standing relationship with the franchise too. New teams (well, one at least - EG-X, which is perhaps an updated version of Pure's EG-R Tech?). New modes. New music and visuals. New functionality...
Remix and Friendly Competition
Away from the Race Campaign, players will also get access to a 'Racebox' mode, which will allow gamers to put to together (and save) their own Race Grids, or just race in individual events. Though the additional option of watching a fully AI-controlled race is questionable...surely it's not as much fun to watch as it is to play? Like its predecessor, WipEout Pulse will be featuring Ad Hoc Multiplayer racing for up eight players, but it will also take advantage of the PSP's Infrastructure mode, allowing the action to go international. Besides 'going global', hopefully it will mean that SCEE will be removing a rather irritating bug in Pure; the 2005 game prevented players with the North American version from engaging in multiplayer action with players using the European version over the PSP's Ad Hoc mode. Additionally, Pulse will feature Game Sharing functionality, something new to WipeOut Pure gamers outside of Europe (SCEE Liverpool Studio added the function to the European version of Pure as 'compensation' for the delayed release).
Further functionality being squeezed into the game include downloadable content from day one such new tracks and music (something touched upon in Pure), the ability to upload images taken from the Photo mode online, and finally, one additional touch that open up the levels of creativity to WipEout fans. Taking a leaf from Microsoft's Forza Motorsport, the option to create skins for the anti-grav ships will also be available on the official Wipeout website, though Sony hasn't even teased about this as of yet, so it's a bit difficult to see how detailed players will be allowed to go. SCEE has however confirmed that player skins will be seen even during multiplayer races, no doubt adding an extra incentive to customising fanatics.