WipEout HD AU Hands-on
Plus, gorgeous new screens!
by IGN AU Staff, IGN AU
Australia, November 23, 2007 - The WipEout series has been a staple of 3D gaming since it first jetted its way onto the PSone (and Saturn, let's not forget the Saturn) way back in 1995. In that time it's had its highs and lows, but a few things have never changed - the series' adherence to cool, futuristic design, blazingly fast racing and a thumping soundtrack. And now WipEout is taking its first step into the high definition landscape, with WipEout HD, which will be available for purchase and download on the PlayStation Store in early 2008.
HD isn't an all-new WipEout game, instead taking its cues from WipEout games past. It's not clear at this stage whether all the courses will be pulled from Pure and Pulse - the two PSP incarnations, or whether it will also have courses from earlier console-based WipEout titles. We suspect that - purely for ease of translation - it will be the former. In fact, while we were only able to go hands on with a very limited demo of the game, both the courses - Anulpha Pass and Chenghou Project - were from Pure, and they both looked fantastic in their 1080p, 60fps incarnations.
Anulpha Pass practically jumps out of the screen - as you scream along the course, the neon blue strips on the road surface turn and wind hypnotically with its curves, while cheery bright billboards seem to lean in alongside you, further increasing the sensation of speed. Plus, almost every structure has neon blue rims, emphasising that you're racing in the crazy Tron-esque future. The entire setting seems to be custom built for the race, with huge grandstands of cheering AG racing fans and what appears to be a honeycomb array of VIP viewing areas curving around the outside on one building. Designed for speed rather than technical turns, Anulpha Pass doesn't really require use of the airbrakes at all, instead focusing on smoothly leaning into its corners at speed. It's pretty faithful to the Pure version in terms of the environment and course design (so yes, the nifty little boost pad laden shortcut is still there), but the far higher resolution textures and big screen presentation really ups the immersion levels.
Same deal for Chenghou Project, although this course has a completely different aesthetic and course design. Which course is this? Remember the 'Robots Build Robots' sign on that big sweeping turn? That's the one. The vibe is much more muted - you're racing through more complex turns set high up amongst the tall buildings of a far more drab, even industrial city. The intense glare from the sun in some sections is nicely contrasted by the shadows stretching across the course and the more muted colour palette. Who would have thought beige could look so cool?
The code we played is still very much a work in progress - the look of the HUD and the cool pulsing honeycomb shield effect, as well as the weapon effects, aren't finalised, nor is the balancing of the AI. While the surroundings are already looking great, we've been told that there are a number of unfinished assets included, and that there will be more activity in the surroundings, so we can only expect things to look better on final release.
While the HUD is incomplete, we should touch on a couple of aspects that are currently in it, as they may well make it into the final game, just in a slicker form. The first is a pointer at the bottom of the screen indicating where the nearest racer behind you is and how close they are. Rather than having to look back you can now drop mines with confidence, and try to block other ships that are trying to overtake. Hardly a revolution, but a nice touch nonetheless. The second gives you a heads-up when you're in danger of taking damage from another racer's weapons. In the past you'd hear "mines!" and you'd know they were coming up, but not where. This system - comprised of two sets of three arrows - clues you in as to whether they're on the left, right or in the middle by highlighting one of the arrows representing 'trouble ahead'. The same applies for when rockets and the like are being fired from behind. It's a bit of a finicky system, and we're not so sure how it would work for projectile weapons online, so yeah, we'll wait and see whether it sticks around.
The feel of the controls in this demo is great - smooth and responsive. Fans won't have any trouble hopping straight in. The mechanics are very similar to Pure and Pulse, with the extra layers added by those games such as the option to absorb pickups to boost your energy reserves, as well as the ol' barrel roll boost off jumps. In a nice touch the game also displays how many boost pads you hit in each lap at the end of the race. As anyone who has spent the time necessary to get good at the PSP games knows, learning where all the boost pads are and how to hit them is paramount, so that's appreciated.
So the controls are familiar right now, but players could have an all-new control option to test out when the game comes out, depending on what the team does with the Sixaxis' motion sensing. The code we played didn't have any Sixaxis implementation for the very good reason that the developer isn't going to implement something for the sake of it. The last thing we heard from developer Sony Computer Entertainment Europe was that the team was still considering how best to implement Sixaxis functionality - should it be full control? Would that be a tight enough solution in the insanely fast higher speed classes? Should it just be used for pitch control? Or should it be utilised with the weapon system somehow? We'll be interested to see what the team goes for in the end.
In terms of audio, we're a little disappointed that HD won't have its own unique soundtrack. Instead, it will feature nine tunes from WipEout Pulse, including tracks from Kraftwerk, Mason, DJ Fresh and Stanton Warriors. Needless to say, it will all be mixed in 5.1 surround sound, as will the sound effects.
What else is there to look forward to? Three difficulty levels and four speed classes, seven race modes (single race, tournament, time trial, speed lap, zone, elimination and head-to-head), full customisation of race rules, and most importantly - online play for up to eight people at a time. Modes available online will be single race, tournament, elimination and team versus team, and the game will keep an extensive game profile on each player, with win/loss records and best times, as well as stats such as ship selection, weapon use, favourite modes and most played tracks. The team is also already planning downloadable content for after the game's release, and they're hoping to release new tracks (both old and new), ships and music, and possibly even an extra game mode or two.
WipEout HD is looking great, and the second we can test a more complete build and/or online play, we'll be back with further thoughts.
If any of you are considering getting this game, get it early for the practice because we will be running some 8-man tourneys here!