Few games have defined Sony's PlayStation brand over the ages like WipEout, with SCE Studio Liverpool's (then Psygnosis) futuristic racer arriving with the original PlayStation in 1995. This high-speed racer wasn't just a vision the year 2052; it combined a techno soundtrack, sleek 3D models and a blistering sense of speed to make impressionable young teens feel like this was the future of gaming itself.
Since that fateful 90s launch, the franchise has been one of the shining jewels in Sony's first-party crown, used to add a necessary touch of pizzazz and high-speed spectacle to launch line-ups and the latest hardware. WipEout 2048 is a prequel of sorts, then, designed to showcase the origins of the series while simultaneously flaunting the impressive the-future-is-now power of the Vita hardware.
And, yes, it's certainly a sight to behold - the screen is packed with so much detail it's actually difficult for your eyes to process the on-screen mix of light trails, twisting architecture and rival craft. The cost of all this detail is framerate, and occasionally it feels like a slight step back from the series' last iteration, WipEout HD, which catapulted players through some buttery-smooth 60fps racing.
But WipEout is as much about spectacle as it is speed, and 2048 opens by conjuring up a near-future vision of New York that sits closer to home than the more alien (but visually arresting) vistas of previous games. It's a different aesthetic but not an inferior one, as the game opens by showing you the first of many breathtaking moments with The Empire Climb, its track boosting your way to the top of the 102-story landmark before blasting you down a vertiginous drop and tunnelling you a wall of speed boosts just as you reach the ground. It made me recall my experience of the Oblivion rollercoaster at Alton Towers, which is no bad thing for a racer that's always had its sights set on inducing vertigo.
A handful of gentle introductory races ease you into the game, though nothing can prepare you for when the difficulty level ramps up considerably in the second of the campaign's three year-long seasons. WipEout has always been a brutally hard racer, and 2048 is no exception, even if the usual controller configuration has been reworked so that there's now only a single button in charge of the airbrake.
The speed ratchets up as you progress into the 2049 and 2050 leagues, class categories now defined with a simpler C (Venom) to A (Phantom) range, and to get an Elite Pass in the second half of the game you'll need to learn how to hit the apex of WipEout's unique racing lines without the aid of any in-game assists. This is even more necessary in the neon-lit Zone mode, returning from WipEout HD, which ramps up the speed to ridiculous levels and tests the abilities of even the most talented players. Classic tracks like Sol and Altima start to rear their head as you advance through the timeline, which will comfort veteran players whose muscle memory will still be able to cope with WipEout's advanced track-specific tricks and risky shortcuts.