Microsoft and Sony currently offer two very different digital download services. Microsoft's Xbox LIVE Arcade offers mostly simple games, both in design and presentation. New games are released regularly and for decent prices. Sony's PSN offerings for the PS3 have been very different. So far the service has received an online version of Tekken 5, brilliant multiplayer action game Warhawk, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue and more. But WipEout HD could top them all in the "this is good enough to be sold in stores" stakes.
After getting some lengthy hands on time with a work in progress build of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Liverpool's stunning PSN racer we were left in no doubt that WipEout HD will more than fill the gap until the first proper PS3 outing for the classic racing series. The first thing that hits you is the visuals. Yes, this will be released as a download, but it looks better than a good number of retail releases. The tracks on offer have all appeared in previous games, but they've been completely re-textured and look superb. Running at a near solid 60 fps (we're assured it'll be completely smooth come release) at 1080p is a sight to behold.
The game's presentation and menu system is highly reminiscent of the last PSP game, WipEout Pulse, with the same grid system for accessing new races and points needed to open up new flyers (tiers in the campaign). The more you play with a certain race team, the more loyalty points you earn, which in turn unlock bonuses. It's all very much like the WipEout we've been playing on the PSP for the past few years, and that's no bad thing.
Event types on offer include standard races, races without weapons, time trial events and the superb zone mode. In zone mode events your goal is to survive for as long as possible, with your craft gaining speed as time passes. No only is this constant increase in speed insanely fun, but it makes for the most challenging event type in the game. The visuals on display during zone mode events are also spectacular, with a graphic equalizer effect on the track surface and a constantly changing colour scheme that takes over the track like a tidal wave.
Making their way over from Pulse are magstrips. These pink sections of track lock your craft in place so it doesn't go flying into the air as you zoom through the elaborate track designs. It was a nice feature in Pulse and seems to work fine in WipEout HD. Other features carried over include photo mode, which lets you take snaps and use them as background images on the PS3 XMB, and custom soundtrack support. As great as it is to have the option to listen to your own tunes, the included selection is top drawer and fits the fast paced gameplay superbly.
WipEout HD is shaping up very well indeed. With a release set for Q2 2008 we can't wait to get our hands on the final version. With eight-player online racing and leaderboards to sink our teeth into, plus the promise of extra content released regularly after release (both PSP WipEouts were supported superbly post-release), WipEout's PS3 debut looks to be one of the PSN's best games yet.