Psygnosis’ legendary franchise lives on through a polished Vita entry, providing hands-down the greatest racing experience on the handheld and undoubtedly the best in the series.
World-building & Story
WipEout 2048 is the latest in a long-running franchise of anti-gravity racers set in the near future. This particular entry is actually a prequel – set during the origins of the sport as illustrated by a beautiful CG movie at the start of the game showing the evolution of motorsport to the beginnings of hovercar racing.
And really, it’s this opening movie that sets the tone for the whole game. While the series’ trademark futuristic sky rollercoasters are still present, this is a much more grounded world – tracks are a mixture of custom-built winding labyrinths and more open urban and rural areas built into the landscape. In this way, the world-building is incredible – you’re witnessing this new sport slowly being built as you race, but it’s not quite there yet.
This is mirrored in progression – there’s no story as such, but you’ll compete in racing leagues throughout three different seasons (2048; 2049 and 2050) and each one will introduce new tracks with designs which reflect the evolving sport. It’s storytelling without literally relaying a plot to you – there’s no characters but the world is presented to allow you to draw your own conclusions and I really loved that.
Plot progression is an area I’ve always felt racing games struggle with, but the design in WipEout 2048 is spot on – enough to develop a world, but not so much to slow down the fast-paced action with pointless character development.
Presentation & Sound
As you’ll be able to see from any of the screenshots in this review, WipEout 2048 is a desperately beautiful game. It undoubtedly is among the prettiest Vita has to offer but thanks to some great art choices, manages to hold its own against modern games in a number of ways.
Starting with the obvious – the tracks themselves. These are densely populated with tonnes of scenery – skyscrapers; billboards and mascots all which help create the feeling of a living, breathing world being raced through. Even under close scrutiny things like textures and lighting hold up, meaning every area is a joy to race through – you may spend your first few times simply taking everything in!
Certain environmental ‘gimmicks’ help keep the tracks differentiated despite similar geometry – for example, Empire Climb is a literal drive up the side of a skyscraper; while Sol is a series of connected sky bridges which you’ll regularly jump between to reach the finish line. They’re endlessly inventive and feel like some real thought went into making them all fresh and exciting, while ensuring each is visually stunning.
This tight graphical design extends to the ships, which are incredibly detailed and impressive. Each has a trail of energy flowing behind it and little features like air brakes sticking up when pressed add to the immersion. They’ll even interact with the environment in various ways such as little magnetic pulses while driving up the side of a building, showing just how much effort went into this aspect of the game.
Weapons and attacks are a slight step below everything else – while things like Quake produces a satisfying ripple up the track, missiles and rockets feel like they lack impact, especially when compared to other combat racers. It doesn’t detract from the experience but is noticeable especially considering all aspects of the presentation are so spot on.
Of course, this means sound is on point too – ships whirr when racing and missiles crash into opponents; crowds cheer when you drive past and generally the game really conveys a futuristic racing tournament. Music has always been a high point for the series and things are no different here – a selection of licensed techno and trance tracks are the perfect accompaniment to the action happening on screen (although long-time fans may original tracks from the game from franchise alumni Cold Storage).
Gameplay & Content
As is commonplace for the series at this point, WipEout 2048 places a heavy emphasis on intricate racing mechanics and track memorization, meaning it can be a daunting and technical racer for newcomers. If you’re willing to dig a little deeper, however, you’ll find an incredible experience that rewards dedication and skill.
For starters let me re-iterate – this is a futuristic anti-gravity racer with combat in. Despite this, the focus is very much on the driving experience – your craft handles extremely well, aided by ‘air brakes’ which allow rapid deceleration as well as the ability to take tight corners with extreme precision. There’s not really many other games I feel that have control like this – if I ever miss a corner, it’s always my own mistake rather than something in the game itself.
To help keep races exciting, the tracks themselves are full of winding corridors; epic jumps across chasms and magnetic strips to aid driving upside down. They’re also littered with speed boost pads that slowly help to teach you the perfect racing line – you’re going to need to be hitting these in order to achieve the best times and progress through the campaign.
As previously mentioned, weapons do feature in a number of the game modes, but feel like a bonus rather than an integrated part of the mechanics like in a cart racer. There’s a variety of different things available – from traditional mines and missiles to more inventive leech beams and quakes. They all have their place and uses and although some can be frustrating when they keep hitting you, they generally make things even more enjoyable on top of an already solid blueprint.
Of course, weapons are only useful in certain game modes but this is an area that WipEout 2048 excels – there are a lot of different things to do throughout the campaign, so you’re bound to find something you like. Your standard challenge is in races – against 7 AI opponents, you race a set number of laps with weapons enabled and attempt to come first. There are also time trials and speed laps that challenge you to reach the best possible times on each track and really hone your skills in terms of memorization.
But it’s the more inventive modes that stand out the most. Combat racing is focused on weapons – hitting your foes nets you points and destroying them gains even more, with the goal being to hit the target amount of points. The best mode (as has been the case since Pure) is Zones – in this, your craft automatically accelerates and you merely need to steer without hitting the walls for as long as possible, a task much more challenging than it first appears. It’s a simple idea yet remains incredibly fun throughout.
Meanwhile, Zone Battle has you hitting speed pads in order to store boost then unleashing it at the right moment to increase your speed past a certain threshold. Detonator, bizarrely, turns the tracks into shooting arcades and tasks you with destroying as many targets as possible without your ship being destroyed. Individually these modes wouldn’t be enough to carry the game, but combined they create a rich diversity in options for how you can play.
Sadly, the game’s structure leaves a little to be desired. You’ll work your way through the campaign which is three seasons of increasingly difficult challenges, selected from nodes on a grid which gives a nice sense of progression (as you’ll need to plan a route through by playing adjacent nodes), but that’s all there is. The most glaring omission is ‘racebox’ – a series staple that allows you to choose your map, speed and mode. If you want to replay anything specific, be prepared to hunt it out from a sea of indistinct nodes.
This design continues to the multiplayer which, thankfully, is where it fares a lot better. The online campaign has you progressing through a series of nodes, each with a specific challenge – ranging from just finishing to destroy multiple enemy ships. Finishing the task will ‘pass’ the node and you can move onto the next, giving a great incentive to keep pushing forward through it.
In an interesting design choice, at the end of each race players vote between two options for what’s next and this is always a choice between a normal race and a combat race. This means you can get stuck on the same thing over and over with the same set of opponents, but this will just cause you to hone your skills more. Real life gamers play differently to AI and this is most noticeable in combat racing where online games devolve into staying in one small area and everyone grabbing as many weapons as possible in a Twisted Metal-esque brawl. It’s carnage, but unbelievable fun.
In terms of content, WipEout 2048 is a fairly meaty game – if you engage in the online offering it’ll last you indefinitely, but even without there’s a lot here to admire. Sadly, without racebox its replay-ability is severely diminished, but that’s really the only thing wrong with the package.
Thankfully, Studio Liverpool offered downloadable content after the title’s release that is some of the best available on Vita. Both the campaign from WipEout HD and its expansion pack Fury are here, allowing you to replay some of the series’ best tracks on Vita. Of course, this content was originally lifted from the PSP games Pure and Pulse, but has been HD-ified and spruced up here.
As such, there’s plenty of things to do to keep you occupied here across multiple tournaments and new tracks, although again the lack of racebox is a disappointment. For newcomers it’s a must-have to expand the scope of the title but even for veterans it’s worth returning to these tracks and chasing high scores on tougher difficulties. It’s well worth purchasing for the asking price and is one of the most complete pieces of DLC I’ve ever seen on Vita or otherwise.
While the lack of racebox or any way to customize races is a disappointment, everything else about WipEout 2048 is stellar – from the pumping soundtrack; to the gorgeous graphics; to the finely-honed intricate racing – it creates such a full package that very little can compare on Vita. The inclusion of HD/Fury’s content as DLC alongside a fleshed out and addictive multiplayer mode is just the icing on the cake.