While I suppose it’s customary to review Uncharted: Golden Abyss first, Wipeout 2048 was the first game I busted open for the PlayStation Vita. As much as I adore Naughty Dog’s award-winning franchise, I’ve always been a sucker for Wipeout ’s almost unparalleled fluidity, visuals, and atmosphere. I’ve loved it ever since it first debuted on the original PlayStation, and I’ve been pleasantly satisfied with this portable iteration.
As expected, the graphics are a big highlight. The clarity and detail is absolutely astounding for a handheld title; Studio Liverpool’s slick title was my introduction to the Vita’s impressive visual capabilities, and it really blew me away. The frame rate never stutters (that’s a staple of this franchise), the meticulous design is fantastic, and the effects and sense of speed are unbelievable. However, if you check the backdrops closely, you’ll know this isn’t quite PS3-quality.
The patented futuristic sound is here as well. The soundtrack is loaded with techno and electronic tracks that suit the on-track action beautifully, and the robotic yet crystal clear narration – while sparse – is also appropriate. The audio effects blend extremely well with the music; one never seems to supersede the other, so the balance is nearly perfect. Technically speaking, Wipeout 2048 is an enviable achievement and a great showcase for the Vita’s high-tech skills.
If you’ve played any of the recent series iterations, you’ll take to this like a fish to water. I’ve heard that some critics have been hard on the game’s lack of innovation; i.e., it “doesn’t do anything new.” While I would normally be on the side pushing for fresh creativity, such a complaint falls on deaf ears. I want the familiar; I want the recognizable awesomeness of the franchise that has always excelled; I want a handheld version of the memorable console experiences.
The setup is relatively straightforward: you negotiate the menu with the touchscreen, which is easily done; you can select your ship, enter events, and check out the various community features. Events include simple races (no weapons), races with only offensive weapons enabled, races with all weapons enabled, something called Zones ( Wipeout HD fans will know what these are), and a new event that focuses exclusively on combat. It’s not about racing; it’s about scoring points by damaging enemies.
The challenge is there and I happen to like this particular learning curve. It’s not too demanding but it does ask you to practice, as only the “Elite Pass” ratings can be achieved after a few tries. Well, usually. In the first hour or two, seasoned players will likely score several Elite Passes without retrying, but if you’re a novice, you can alter the steering. If you ask the computer to help you with the handling, things become infinitely easier…even if I still call it cheating. Control is precise and reliable, and there are plenty of available ships and events.
If you want to try something new, you can try the tilt function. By tilting the Vita itself, you can steer your ship, which is a cool idea but unfortunately, it’s not perfect. It’s fun to try for a while but this game demands the precision of standard command inputs; in my eyes, the tilt feature isn’t even necessary. The other downside involves visibility: I think the draw distance could’ve been better, and opposing racers can seriously hamper your view of the track. I think it’s because your eyes are drawn to them so often.
The game is fun, fast, and addictive, as most all franchise entries have been in the past. The combination of the ultra-slick technical elements and familiar gameplay make this one a must for fans. Just be prepared for some inordinately long load times…not sure why, but races take a while to load. Lastly, up to eight players can get involved in the action via multiplayer, but I have to remind our readers that I haven’t been able to test this as of yet. Also, don’t forget about the four-player Ad-hoc option that should be a blast.
Wipeout 2048 is easily one of the best titles available for the launch of the PlayStation Vita. Even if you’re not a long-time fan of the series, you should check it out. There’s plenty of content, it’s flashy and pleasing in so many ways, the presentation is singularly appealing, and the gameplay is rock solid. The load times are oddly slow and visibility can be a problem but for the most part, this is a highly enjoyable experience. If you want something to show off the power of your fancy new portable, it’s right here.
The Good: Fantastic visual presentation and atmosphere. Great soundtrack and effects. Solid, blindingly fast gameplay. Difficulty is just about right and options exist for newcomers. Different events keep everything fresh. Addictive and fun.
The Bad: Long load times. Visibility and draw distance aren’t always the best. Tilt function feels tacked on.
The Ugly: “If you can find something ugly about this production, you’re being waaaay too anal.”