Video game review entries

June 16, 2009

Review: WipeOut Pulse

Not rated

Exams are over, and I'm back again. And this time, I'll attempt to write about WipeOut Pulse for the PSP - my second review on this blog and my first game review ever. The reason I've chosen WipeOut Pulse is because I have had so much fun with it that I thought I'd share my enthusiasm for this game. This post may end up containing a lot more praise than criticism, but I'll try to be as objective as possible.

WipeOut Pulse is a futuristic racing game, similar to the F-Zero and Extreme-G series. It is the 8th game in the WipeOut series. The player pilots some kind of hovering vehicle that can attain speeds above 1000 km/h, and whose instantaneous acceleration would in theory crush the bones of any human pilot. Courses are filled with turbo pads which boost your speed, and pads which give you an item at random (boost, shield, missile, mines, etc.), Maro Kart style. These can either be used on the opponents, or absorbed to partly refill your energy. The goal is then (usually) to come in first without destroying your ship.

Most of the game takes place in the Race Campaign, which consists of a total of 16 grids (most of them locked), each containing between 8 and 16 "challenges". To every challenge corresponds one of the 24 tracks, one of the four speed classes (which determine speed and number of laps), and one racing mode. I shall briefly describe each of these modes.

* Single Race:

Normal race against 7 opponents, get in first without destroying your ship. In the higher speed classes, part of the challenge is simply to manage to complete all the laps without destroying your ship by continously crashing into the sides. Gold medal for 1st, silver for 2nd, bronze for 3rd.

* Time trial:

No opponents, just yourself trying to beat the time set by the game. No item pads, but one booster granted every lap. Good way to get to know the course.

* Speed lap:

No opponents, no item pads, 7 laps in total. One booster per lap. The goal is to complete a lap as fast as possible. The better the time, the better the medal.

* Zone:

No opponents, no item pads. This one is fun. You start out quite slowly, but as you progress your speed gradually increases, and there is no way of slowing down... suddenly, turbo pads become something you want to avoid. The goal is to complete as many "zones" (about 1/5 of a lap) as possible, before your ship is destroyed. The speeds that can be attained in this challenge are breathtaking.

* Eliminator:

7 opponents, infinite laps. The goal here is to get rid of your enemies. Every time a ship is destroyed (including your own), it is almost immediately respawned, and the challenge continues. The goal is to destroy ten ships before an opponent does. This drastically changes racing behaviour, as there is no longer any incentive to being in first place. I read someone complaining that the outcome of this kind of challenge was almost uniquely determined by chance, something with which I couldn't agree less. Eliminator is the most strategic of the challenges, and with some practise and skill it is possible to ensure a win most times.

* Head to Head:

Race against one opponent, basically. The only reason this mode has been included, I believe, is so that two online players can have a match against each other. In Race Campaign, Head to Head's are ridiculously easy.

Together, these modes form the bulk of the game. If you can't find the specific challenge you're looking for in Race Campaign, you can also just start a custom race. In a way, this may sounds like a standard racing game, but then again, WipeOut Pulse doesn't claim to be anything else. What makes it nevertheless a stunning game are things like the graphics, and the general appearance of the levels. One course zig-zags through a dense Japanese metropolitan area, another one smoothly curves through a tropical island in the Carribean, and yet another is located around a communications hub in northern Finland. They are a delight to look at, and there is something relaxing about racing through them in my opinion. On top of this, the diversity of the weapons adds a lot of dimension to the game, as the timing of your shots can be crucial to your victory, and the constant dilemma of either using the weapon or absorbing it tests your ability to make quick decisions. 

WipeOut Pulse allows you to upload your own music onto the game, and listen to it while racing the tracks. I haven't, however, felt the slightest need to do this, since the default music fits the game perfectly. I'm not a big techno fan, but I've realised that when piloting a ship through the giant stadium of the Amphiseum at 700 km/h while dodging shurikens, nothing is more appropriate.

The difficulty curve is about right. I was going to complain that it was a little on the 'too easy' side, but then I saw that Gamespot had put "Very punishing difficulty at the later stages" as one of the game's bad points. Maybe if I put AI difficulty on something other than 'Easy' I'd agree, but given that you have the choice between 'Easy', 'Medium' and 'Hard' for every race, I don't believe there's an issue here.

Which brings us to one point that I do find a bit frustrating: the opponents aren't human enough. In particular, it seems impossible for them to bump into walls. Granted, they take the turns a lot slower than a human player would, but seeing an opponent activate a turbo in the middle of the most twisted passage of the entire course and still get away with it, never fails to make me wince. Likewise, there are places in the later courses where the AI inevitable gets an edge every lap, simply because it is not humanly possible to make such sharp turns without almost coming to a halt or thrashing into a wall. The 'Autopilot' item gives some insight into how the AI gets through the U-turns without stopping.

That being said, the AI is still a worthy opponent, about as difficult as an actual human player. Also, online racing against actual human players is also possible, although I haven't tried this feature yet, partly because Warwick University doesn't support WiFi, partly because I'm not much of an online gamer.

All in all, I find WipeOut Pulse to be really enjoyable, not because it's a creative masterpiece (indeed, the concept in itself is nothing new), but rather because it is an extremely immersive game with surprising grahics for a handheld console game. Additionally, it is delightfully easy to just turn on the PSP and start racing within less than a minute. It isn't a deep game, but it's a good way to have fun and to relax. Well, maybe "relax" isn't the word - I did once fling the PSP at the floor in frustration after the n-th unsuccesful attempt at finishing Platinum Rush in Phantom Speed Class without wrecking my ship - but it will do for now. Needless to say, players looking for a realistic racing game are not going to find it in WipeOut Pulse, but for PSP owners who enjoy this futuristic racing genre, this game is definitely worth it.

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