Developer: Studio Liverpool / Pubisher: Sony Computer Entertainment / Played on: PlayStation Vita / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone 10+ [Fantasy Violence]
WipEout is sononymous with a few things: flying cars, awesome tracks, sweet guns, and thumping trance music. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, then you probably won’t like WipEout 2048. That’d be a shame though, because future cars shooting each other to trance music rules, and 2048 is the best in the series so far.
Fundamentally, WipEout 2048 follows the same formula as previous WipEouts with a few tweaks to make the game a little friendlier. Rather than require podium finishes, you can either earn a normal pass or elite pass for every race. Merely passing is generally easy while earning the elite pass requires a first place finish. The new ranking system does a great job of giving you plenty to achieve without making you earn first place in everything just to progress.
The game’s campaign is cobbled together with a mix of events, most of which return from previous games in the series. Race, time trial, and fast lap are exactly what they sound like. Combat races, new to WipEout 2048, are judged by score rather than time. You earn points by tagging opponents with weapons and lose points for blowing up, and the player with the most points at the time limit wins. This mode is reasonably fun, but ends up feeling awkward and doesn’t leverage WipEout’s real strengths: speed and fluidity.
Prototype races are also new to 2048 and add much more to the game. As you finish races and rank up, you’ll be able to access prototype events hidden around the event map. These challenges are much more difficult than normal season events and unlock the prototype cars which operate on unique mechanics. For instance, the first prototype car I unlocked starts with a low top speed, but increases its top speed for every boost pad it hits in a race… but it resets with every lap. Vehicles like this fundamentally change how you race rather than forcing a tradeoff between acceleration, handling, and top speed.
I typically hate playing games online, but WipEout 2048’s multiplayer mode is novel and genuinely fun. Rather than simply match you against a bunch of other racers that are invariably much better than you, 2048’s multiplayer is similar to the single player campaign. You have a track of events, each of which offer a pass or elite pass for satisfying certain conditions in a multiplayer race. These start off extremely basic — just finishing the race will keep you progressing early on. Eventually the objectives require better performance, but they even let you skip an objective if you don’t get it three times in a row. It’s a fantastic way to implement multiplayer and completely removes that “win or you’re wasting your time” mentality.
While I love the structure of multiplayer, it’s so technically clunky that if you want to race seriously, you probably won’t be able to. The critical bits work just fine — I was able to get into a lobby without a problem and latency didn’t affect my handling at all. However, opponents blink all around the track erratically, occasionally appearing right next to me and knocking me off my racing line with no warning. That’s awkward, but the jittery enemy tracking makes combat events randomized chaos. It’s nearly impossible to tag an enemy with anything other than a lock-on weapon when they’re blinking all over the track. Luckily the objectives for multiplayer events are forgiving, so I wound up taking most of the multiplayer weirdness in stride.
Controlling WipEout 2048 is a mix between adapting to the Vita’s control sticks and enduring some of the Vita-specific features that have been forced into the game. I initially struggled with the Vita’s sticks as they have a much smaller range of motion than full-size controllers. Given that WipEout is already really floaty and touchy by nature, it makes for some awkward initial races. Eventually I developed a lighter touch and felt right at home.
However, there are some touch and motion controls smashed in 2048 that do nothing. You have to use the touch screen to navigate the event map and pick an event to play, which makes no sense considering you just move your hands back to the sticks to play. Additionally, you uncover hidden events by rubbing the rear screen — an unexplained convention that cost me 20 minutes of hunting around the event map with no success. You can also use sixaxis controls to steer, but it doesn’t remotely offer the precision you need to pull out the game-winning times.
I did enjoy one Vita-specific feature, though. In multiplayer races, you can use the Vita’s front camera to snap a picture that will display if you destroy another racer or finish on the podium. I’m sure this will eventually mean dick pics for everyone, but I enjoyed seeing my serious racing face show up at the end of a match. If you don’t want the Internet seeing your face though, don’t worry; taking no picture is the default setting.
I remember when I first played F-Zero GX, I went to the ship viewer and was amazed that I could see the chipped paint on the Blue Falcon. My roommate remarked “The better things look, the shittier they look.” That is absolutely true of WipEout 2048, which looks amazing just because it looks more grimy and incomplete than previous games in the series. This takes place during the first WipEout tournament, meaning that the ships, tracks, and environments are older and dirtier, even having you race on turf and broken sections of track.
The game’s a technical wonder too, generally maintaining excellent framerates. However, when the shit really hits the fan combat-wise, the framerate dips. That, mixed with the fact that explosions and smoke are clouding the screen, can really break your groove and have you clip a wall or two. Still, it’s been a long time since a game wowed me purely with its graphics.
The less-clean, less-complete aesthetic crosses over into 2048’s sound really well. The soundtrack is a little more dub and glitch, which both reflects modern electronica and the dirtier vibe of the game. The engine whir of the racers sounds fantastic, mixing mechanical and electronic sounds in a way that reminds me a lot of the podracers in Star Wars Episode 1. The game’s announcer is great as well, booming with bass and a slight echo that makes it sound like the future of motorsports that I hope happens some day.
WipEout’s core experience – fast races, awesome music, and incredible graphics – are better than they’ve ever been in WipEout 2048. However, the game’s more experimental features like motion controls and touch interface fall flat. If you’re hoping for a crazy new WipEout experience on the Vita, you won’t get it. But really now, why would you want one? WipEout 2048 is a fantastic game, and it belongs in every launch Vita.