Wipeout has been around for so long now that a new game in the series barely needs an introduction. The PSP had Wipeout Pure at the launch in the UK, and despite being a handheld exclusive it proved to be the best game the series had seen in years. Since then Wipeout fans have had very little to get excited about. Wipeout HD for the PlayStation 3 has teased us with its beauty and a proper PS3 game in the series is reported to be in development, but what about now? Well, Wipeout Pulse for the PSP should keep you happy.
When you've got a good thing there's very little point in meddling. Pulse is therefore more of the same with a small number of changes. You're once again piloting zippy hover speeders around heavily built up city districts, competing with other racers and contending with numerous high-powered weapons and ship power-ups.
In the single-player mode you're presented with a series of grids, with a number of events on each locked until you fulfil certain criteria. Once you complete enough of the events on the grid, another grid is unlocked, complete with harder challenges and faster craft to race in. It's pretty typical Wipeout stuff, and the gameplay remains as fans will remember, complete with the ability to use a pick-up to replenish energy should your craft be dangerously close to exploding.
Brand new to the series is the ability to race upside-down, thanks to the introduction of mag-strips. These essentially glue your ship to the road (although still let you move along at insane speed), meaning you can do crazy things like loop-the-loops, making an already incredibly fast and exciting game even more so. Certain sections of track spice things up by giving you a choice over whether to use the mag-strip route or the plain old track route, and overall they're used well enough to please even hardcore Wipeout purists.
Pure looked great and Pulse does too, although it doesn't have the same "WOW" factor that Pure did, given that PSP games have moved on somewhat over the past two years. As well as some impressive looking tracks and scenery, all styled in typical Wipeout fashion, the game's most impressive visual feature is its speed. In the high-end vehicles you can reach ridiculous speeds, and thankfully the frame rate holds up well unless you happen to drive straight through an explosion.
Audio work is as good as expected from a Wipeout title. Sound effects and the odd smattering of voice work are excellent, but the soundtrack is the real star. Once again the collection features tunes from some of the best dance acts and DJs around, bringing you back to the days when Wipeout was synonymous with clubbers and the dance music of the 90s. Custom soundtrack support and the ability to take screenshots of the action round up the game's excellent presentation.
New to the series as a whole is online functionality - something that is even more impressive given the handheld the game is running on. You've got all the online leaderboards and ghosts that you'd want, plus races for up to eight players. There's even integration with the official website, so you can see how you're doing without needing to browse leaderboards on the PSP itself. This isn't something that's new to gaming and has certainly been done with more depth elsewhere, but on the PSP it's a brilliant addition to an already excellent game.
Players who prefer to play with people sat on the couch next to them can of course opt to play with up to 8 players via the included wireless LAN mode, and there's even support for Game Sharing if your mates are too cheap to buy their own copy. Although not taking things to Forza 2 levels of amazingness, you can also paint your own decals on your craft, giving the game that extra level of personality, especially when racing online. To top things off, the official website currently has place holders for four downloadable content packs, so it looks like Pulse will be supported just as well as Pure was.
Wipeout Pulse is more of the same, but the new additions, primarily in the shape of online play, mean this is essential for Wipeout fans and adrenaline junkies. It'll take a while before you're racing around at top speed, but when you get there Pulse delivers the Wipeout goodness in spades and with some of the best visuals seen on Sony's handheld.