Wipeout 2048 Hands-On Preview -- High Flying, High-Def Racing on the GoBy Sinan Kubba - Posted Sep 12, 2011
At Gamescom 2011, Sony were parading a lot of the games that will be playable on its oh-so-shiny new handheld, the PlayStation Vita. Some were all about the console’s touch controls, while others were looking to exploit the 3G connectivity with impressive online functionality. It shouldn’t be of any surprise, however, that one of the games which best showed off the power of the quad-core SGX543 graphics processing unit and quad-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor was undoubtedly Wipeout 2048.
The next entry in the futuristic racing series looks stunning on the Vita, boasting an incredible 250,000 polygons per frame to show off the imaginative landscapes conjured up by Sony’s Liverpool studio. Just as I found most recently with Wipeout HD on the PS3, the challenge with playing through the Wipeout 2048’s Empire Climb track is remaining undistracted by the scenery on show.
Even on the smaller screen of a handheld, when the anti-gravity track suddenly shifts upward so that I’m guiding my ship parallel to a tall skyscraper and mind-bogglingly racing it past the underside of a helicopter, I’m absolutely blown away. Then it all shifts 90 degrees back so that I’m worming right around the building, and with the track being see-through I’m able look below and see the full industrial revelry of the quasi-futuristic metropolis as if I were in the helicopter. Then my perspective shifts again as the track winds round and takes me back down the other side of the skyscraper, and now I’m hurtling towards civilization at hundreds of miles per hour. It’s just stunning.
With the game set in 2048, it’s interesting how the higher off the ground I am the more futuristic the scenery around me is, but the ground level has a more present-day feel; regular roads, regular buildings, regular neon advertisements. It’s an odd mix which will hopefully make 2048 stand out from other games in the series, at least visually speaking.
Wipeout fans are well accustomed to visual excellence, though, so while they’ll be impressed by the above, they’ll also be expecting big things of the racing. From what I played in Cologne, 2048 won’t deviate too far from traditional Wipeout. Keeping up with the track will be objective number one, and then it’s about making your way through the pack using the weapons you collect on the way.
The major difference with weapons in 2048 is the new split between offensive and defensive. Green and yellow weapon icons will now be laid across the track. Yellow icons will produce offensive weapons like missiles and shockwaves, while green icons will produce defensive aids like mines and shields. The thinking behind this is to give players the choice to be tactical rather than have the game gear weapons around their positions Mario Kart-style. It’s one thing being able to navigate the track well enough to allow myself the choice between greens and yellows, but for more experienced players it could be make for some interesting gambles, blocks, and bluffs as they vie for position.
From my playthrough, it seemed like they were more weapon icons than a typical Wipeout game, suggesting greater emphasis on combat and players being able to claw their way back from the back. Similarly, the weapons I see in the current build are fairly traditional for the series, things like mines, homing missiles, and speed boosts. Studio Liverpool is, however, promising to tweak some of the existing arsenal as well as introduce new weaponry to 2048. Shields, for example, will activate automatically when the racer behind you is about to make a direct hit, while shockwaves will be even more devastating than before. It’s always a delicate balance satisfying long-term fans while trying to take a series forward, but Studio Liverpool are old hands at this game, and they more than know what they’re doing with Wipeout 2048.
As we saw at this year’s E3, Wipeout 2048 supports cross-platform play between the Vita and Wipeout HD on the PS3, but Studio Liverpool is promising a bevy of other technical features too. 2048 will have both party mode support, and using the Vita’s camera will give the game augmented reality support. My favorite use of the camera in 2048 is in online. The game takes a photo of you before each race, and whenever one of your missiles hits another player, your photo will show up on their screen to taunt them. Let’s hope that doesn’t descend into Burnout Paradise-style mischief.
Another new aspect to online play will be extra challenges for players to complete in races, like taking down certain opponents or finishing within the top five of a race. As players complete these challenges, they’ll gain XP and level up, and as they level up, they’ll unlock new cars, new designs, and other assorted goodies. It’s a neat feature that will hopefully make players persist with online play.
What I’m less enthused about, sadly, is the tilt-and-touch control mode. I said at the top of this preview that a lot of the Vita games were showing off the console’s touch and tilt controls; I don’t think Wipeout should’ve been one of them. At this stage, it needs to go back to the drawing board. The tilt is horribly unwieldy, and on the narrow mid-air tracks, it’s requires unreasonable skill to keep your ship from falling into the abyss below. Meanwhile the touch controls, which let you fire off weapons, are awkward with the way the rest of the controls are set up. It just doesn’t compare to playing the game with the twin sticks Sony finally bestowed a handheld with, and unless it gets a serious upgrade between now and release, it’s not going to win over either old or new fans.
It’s worth restating, though, that while the game is a launch title, we’re not expecting a Vita launch to be all that soon, so there’s plenty of time for Studio Liverpool to sort out 2048’s niggles. Along the way, we’ll expect to hear more about the game’s exclusive new tracks and ships, about how old tracks are going to be re-mastered, and more on another Wipeout staple: the soundtrack. Studio Liverpool confirmed to me that they’ve already secured the services of Orbital, Underworld, and Deadmau5, so expect another beastly electronica soundtrack to be hitting our eardrums soon and providing the backdrop to another entry in one of gaming’s most consistently high quality series.