It may have taken some time and patience from PlayStation 3 owners, but the PlayStation Network has grown into a well-stocked showroom of quality downloadable games. Since it has no upper limit on download sizes, games that warrant brick-and-mortar disc releases like Warhawk and, soon enough, Burnout Paradise have shown up on harddrives the world over. WipEout HD falls into the same category, and it’s not for quantity of content.
Fan of the long-running WipEout franchise are likely to feel some deja vu when playing WipEout HD. This new entry doesn’t have a lot of new content — the tracks are recycled from both WipEout Pulse and WipEout Pure for the PlayStation Portable, as is most of the game’s soundtrack — but WipEout HD presents this old content in 1080p and at 60 frames per second, and the audio is output in Dolby 5.1-channel surround.
It’s a stunning new coat of paint for anyone with high definition hardware. Visual detail can be found everywhere, from the lightweight HUD to the sleek vehicles and tracks. The game’s framerate never falters or stutters, nor is there any sign of texture pop-in or glitching. The game truly is a visual wonder, and is one of the best looking games of this console generation.
The game’s campaign is split into eight events, which are in turn split into a number of individual events. These events come in five flavors: Single Race, which is your typical eight-vehicle race event; Tournament, a series of four to twelve races; Speed Lap, where players get seven laps to score the best split time they can; Time Trial, where players race to beat full-race target times; and Zone, in which players race around a single track at ever-increasing speed until the inevitable crash. For added variety, a speed limit is imposed on your vehicle that is determined on the event’s speed class.
WipEout HD, at its core, is little more than an arcade racer, where you zip around tracks in a loosely realistic way. There are only eight tracks included with the original $20 download, sixteen if you include the reversed tracks, so one might get the impression that the novelty of pretty graphics wears out quickly– one would be mostly wrong. While Single Races and Tournaments are similar, and while Speed Laps and Time Trials are equally similar, there’s enough of both types to give players some variety. Toss in a Zone event from time to time and soon enough, the ages-old "just one more level" will be escaping your lips.
Whether you’re squeezing tenths from your laps times or shooting other racers with rockets, the controls feel great under one’s fingers. Learning to combine use of the left stick, which is used to control lateral movement on the track and pitch when in the air, with the airbrakes, controlled with L2 and R2, requires patience and finesse. Particularly at higher speeds, the craft can get a bit squirrely. When in the air, players can complete a special maneuver, aptly called a barrel roll, that gives a quick boost of speed upon landing; it’s done completely with the left stick, which is not nearly as predictable as a simple button press, so perfecting your lap times might require a little extra practice to get the stick movement down.
Online gameplay in WipEout HD is half-baked at best, a shame considering the multiplayer success of downloadable titles like Warhawk. Players can host their own game lobby or join another player’s lobby, and take part in either Single Races or Tournaments. There’s no doubt that racing against other players is more enjoyable than computer-controlled opponents, but itermittent lag, connection issues, and some strange bugs make playing online more difficult than is necessary. Once players find a good room to join, the races can be intense and gratifying, but the problems paired with a severe lack of variety simply makes the single-player modes shine more.
Does that prevent a player from enjoying the $20 they spent on WipEout HD? Likely not. While online multiplayer has become the focus of some modern games, this game manages to keep options open to its players on- and offline. Any racer that pushes players to race just one more lap is worth its salt, and WipEout HD manages to do just that and look good doing it.