There was a time when futuristic spacecraft racing meant one thing: F-Zero. Then, with the birth of the PlayStation, came Wipeout, a high-octane futuristic craft racing game with great graphics and sound. Developed by Psygnosis - a development studio bought by Sony in 1993 - Wipeout was a big hit and went on to receive two sequels on the PlayStation: Wipeout 2097 and Wipeout 3. For most, Wipeout 2097 remains the greatest of the Wipeout series, surpassing its predecessor in all categories and having possibly the greatest soundtrack to grace a videogame. Wipeout eventually made an appearance on the PlayStation 2 in the form of Wipeout Fusion, but even the superior horsepower of the PlayStation 2 couldn't deliver a game that topped 2097. Thankfully, Wipeout Pure takes its cues from the best game in the series.
Fans of the previous games should be right at home with Wipeout Pure as the controls are as you would expect, with the usual air brakes activated with the shoulder buttons. Weapons and power-ups are pretty much as they were before, including rockets, shields, turbos and the devastating quake, which destroys all that lies in its path. Unlike previous games in the series there is no longer a pit lane in which to charge the craft's shield. You must now absorb power-ups in order to recharge the craft's shield. This is great at it helps to maintain your speed throughout the race, but offers up the dilemma of if you want to use that turbo and risk blowing up or play it safe and re-charge.
As with previous Wipeout games, you must race through a series of tournaments in order to unlock new classes, courses and craft. With each new class comes greater speed and therefore an increased difficulty level. The initial classes available (Vector and Venom) are, however, pretty tame and you shouldn't be put off by the slow start. Gamers new to the series might appreciate the slow pace of the Vector class, but those familiar with previous games will probably want to go straight in at the Venom class. Once you get into the first unlockable class (Flash) things begin to hot up, with 2 further classes available to those good enough to unlock them.
Progression through the game is achieved by placing in the top three of races and tournaments, as well as beating records in zone and time trail modes. You'll initially have four tracks from the Alpha tournament available to race, with more becoming available once you unlock the Beta, Classic and Ascension tournaments. As well as single race and tournament modes you have the standard time trial mode, complete with ghost craft, and a rather great Zone mode. In Zone mode you must last as long as you can around the same track as the craft's speed increases each time you pass into a new zone. As with other modes, medals are awarded for reaching certain goals and in doing so you unlock further tracks to race in Zone mode.
Multiplayer is available to those who have friends with PSPs and a copy of the game, with up to eight players able to take part wirelessly. Sadly there is no internet play so you are limited to players within close proximity. You can race single tracks or even set up tournaments in which you can play your friends. Wipeout Pure also includes the option to download new content, such as tracks and vehicles. With the game having been available since March in North America we have already seen several new content packs made available, such as the Gamma and Classic packs; both include new tracks and craft as well as menu skins.
Visually Wipeout Pure is a showcase for what can be achieved on the PSP. It looks terrific, with fantastically stylised and detailed tracks, and great particle and lighting effects bringing the race action to life. As with all the previous Wipeout games, style is very important and Pure really pushes the boat out with sleek looking menus and load screens that just add to the overall trendy feel of the game. Sadly the frame rate doesn't hold steady, with dips coming when several craft are on screen or a large weapon is causing havoc. In Time Trial and Zone modes the frame rate has no such issues and it's a shame that the same smooth visuals couldn't be achieved when more craft are on screen.
Although certainly no Wipeout 2097, the audio experience in Wipeout Pure is still great, and perfectly fitting for the series. Despite lacking the big names of the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy that made 2097 sound so great, what's on offer here doesn't let the game down. Sound effects are spot-on with craft whooshing through the air, and the robotic tone of the announcer fitting in perfectly with the futuristic 2197 game setting.
Racing games aren't exactly in short supply at the launch of the PSP, so a game has to have something special to stand out in a packed crowd - Wipeout Pure has that something. It looks and sounds great and has plenty of tracks to play through and master, especially given the increased challenge when moving up to faster classes. Even when the standard single-player mode does run out of appeal you have Zone mode, multiplayer and new downloadable content that should keep gamers busy for many a battery charge. I urge those that were disheartened by Wipeout Fusion to give Pure a go as it really is back to the basics that made the series so great.