Remember when the Playstation network was down? That was way back when, back in the day when Justin Bieber was the top musical sensation of the world…..what? He still is? This wasn’t that long ago? Really, freaking BIEBER? Damn it. Anyway, remember not that long ago when the Playstation network was down? Not good times for Sony, and I wrote about it here. Whether or not Sony has made it up to consumers (and developers) is another topic, but one definitely positive thing they did do was provide all PSN users with free games. As gamers, we like free stuff. Thus I found myself the proud owner of two games that I always heard were good and wanted to try but never got around to it. The first is the futuristic racing game called Wipeout HD. This game is impressive on many levels, but my favorite thing about it is that it feels very similar to one of my old favorite N64 games: Extreme G. I don’t think you can break the sound barrier, or at least it’s not as noticeable, but super advanced flying cars on totally insane tracks has me hooked. Oh, it also has MISSILES. Every game is better with missiles.
The first thing I noticed when I launched the game is that it runs amazingly well and looks fantastic. I’m not saying a few years old PSN game is going to compete with Crysis 2 or anything like that, but I have never seen a game run at such a silky smooth frame rate. No matter what kind of insanity is happening on-screen (and there is a fair amount of it usually happening) the game never slows or hiccups. The models for the vehicles, best described as hover crafts with jet engines on the back, aren’t the most detailed in the world, but they look good enough. The lack of any super high res textures makes the game look a tad old, but I think that’s why the frame rate never changes. The visual fidelity is at it’s best in something called “Zone” events. The tracks are drained completely of their textures and are left only with a color scheme. This scheme will change on the fly the longer you manage to survive. The race starts (not really a race, you’re the only vehicle, more of a time trial) at one speed class, then goes up one at a time. The only control you have in this mode is steering, the game has the accelerator on full blast for you, hence the challenge. This is easy at first, but eventually it turns into the vehicle just careening around the track and bouncing off all of the walls while the zone flips colors and then you die. It’s sweet. If tracks changing colors sounds trippy to you, prepare to feel really high because of the music. It feels very techno rave like and is surprisingly good.
The meat of the game is the campaign mode, which involves different sets of events bundled together and earning a cumulative point total. Earn enough points and the next bundle is unlocked. Races, time trials, speed laps, and even mini tournaments across multiple tracks are all events. No new ground being broken here of course, but there are A LOT of them and remember this is only a PSN game and not full retail. Racing itself is standard except for one thing ; the boost pads. These are blue arrows placed through the entire track which give you a speed boost when you drive over it. These are not optional “bonus” speed things, the idea is to learn the track well enough to be able to hit all of them. To win any races beyond the first few and get gold medals in the time trial stuff, these need to be taken full advantage of. Thus memorization of the courses is almost a requirement.
My only problems with Wipeout HD are in the fact that sometimes the game gets TOO frantic and it becomes more about the memorization than actual skill level. It’s easy to run an almost perfect race, then mistime or not remember one small turn and be completely thrown off the path and end up losing. I know some revel in that kind of challenge, but the game is not kind to mistakes, even small ones, so know that going in. Weapons in the game range from the previously mentioned missiles as well as mines, lasers, machine guns, and a sweet earthquake machine that screws up the track section in front of you and any racers on it. Each vehicle has an energy meter set at 100 when the race starts that will deplete every time you take a weapon hit or run into a wall. If that meter reaches zero you blow up and lose the race. However, “eating” a weapon instead of using it will restore energy. So if, for example, you’re dangerously low on energy, instead of shooting the machine gun you just picked up, just break it down into energy and refill some of that meter. It’s a nice system that forces you to consider more than just “oh I’ll just fire this and forget”. One small complaint I have about the weapons is that many of the icons for them, put in a small box at the top of the screen Mario Kart style, look very similar. Sometimes in the heat of the moment I think I have mines but actually have a forward firing purple energy thing. It’s a small complaint and probably fixed over time, but more to differentiate would have been nice. (Like green shells and red shells….I think ALL racing games should use Mario Kart items regardless of their setting).
Mastering the full Wipeout HD game would take a fair amount of time, but Sony also included its expansion pack as well, which gives more vehicles and more tracks. The amount of content for the price (free for me, but even if you actually bought it) is very high. After spending hours with the game, I understand why Sony chose to put Wipeout HD on The Welcome Back program list of games. An incredible looking game that runs smooth, has a great soundtrack, lasers and missiles, and has a ton of content is exactly the type of thing I’d like to see more of the downloadable front. Worth playing.