Done Playing: Wipeout HD

Just to get this immediately out of the way, I have to make a confession. I’ve never owned a Wipeout game. Ever. Not even Wipeout XL. I’ve never really played one before for that matter. I’ve spent maybe 10 total minutes of my life playing the Wipeout games. It’s not that I disliked them; they’ve always been on my radar. I just never got around to playing them. That said, I have played one extensively now, and I love it.

Wipeout HD was released on PSN for the PS3 at $20. Ostensibly, it’s just a high resolution update of the recent PSP games, featuring songs, race tracks, and ships cherry picked from those games. The final product is much greater than the sum of those parts. First and foremost are the graphics. They are miles away from the previous Wipeout games. The ships are very detailed and are very well designed, but the real star of the show are the tracks themselves. The “HD” part of the title is immediately evident as soon as you set eyes upon the surface of the tracks. The textures are incredibly detailed, especially when the light hits the road surface just right. It’s incredible to look at, especially given that the game runs at a steady 60 frames per second.

The graphics are amazing, but what is a Wipeout game without a good soundtrack? Fortunately this one doesn’t disappoint, but it’s not as good as some of the past games. There are only two notable tracks in the game, the best of which is by Kraftwerk. Many of the game’s songs won’t stay in your mind for long, but the game does allow custom soundtracks. The way the game handles custom songs is one of the most impressive things about the whole package. The game regularly augments your music as you play. Go through a tunnel, you’ll notice that the music echoes. Get airborne, you’ll notice that the bass momentarily drops out. Get low on health, you’ll hear the music start to mute, as though it were far away, which only adds to your sense of urgency to get your ship repaired. No matter what music you choose to listen to, it’ll seem as though it was customized specifically for Wipeout HD.

Graphics and audio alone aren’t enough to warrant $20 for a game though. Is it fun to play? For me, it definitely is. The Wipeout games are known for their track based, low gravity, aerial racing. Stray too far to the side and you’ll scrape the retaining wall, slowing you down (nearly to a stop at times). Hit a boost at the wrong time, and you’ll fly right off the track. It can be frustrating at first, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. For first time Wipeout players, there is an option included that acts as a sort of training wheels. Get too close to a wall, the game will nudge you back to the track. It’s a decent aide, but the game feels better once you’re able to fly with it disabled.

For $20, Wipeout HD is nearly a steal. It’s not as long as the disc based Wipeouts, but it doesn’t have to be for that price. There’s a decent number of race tracks, all of which have a “backwards” configuration which often feels like an entirely different track. There’s a good number of gameplay modes, including single races, tournaments, time trials, and the seizure inducing “Zone” mode. There’s even 8 player online racing thrown in for good measure, which worked flawlessly when I tested it. All in all, Wipeout HD is the best game I’ve downloaded all year. I may like it a lot since the series is practically new to me, but I imagine long time Wipeout fans will be thrilled with it all the same. It’s hard not to like a game when it looks this good.

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