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Wipeout Pulse is the sequel to Wipeout Pure a game exclusive to the PSP release in 2005. This time around however the game has been ported over to the PS2 in what is a faithful conversion that retains much of the content available in the handheld version minus the multiplayer modes of the game and it also includes all the bonus download packs previously available separately on the one disc. This PS2 game is an exclusive title which is available only in Europe. Like all the other games in the series Wipeout Pulse is a futuristic racing game where players control an anti-G racing craft that hovers a few feet from the ground using it's high tech propulsion system. Different Wipeout games are set in different time periods from around the time when the FX400 Anti-Gravity Racing League first began in the 2050s and this installment in the series takes place in the year 2207 and takes place in racing courses scattered throughout the world.
Each of the ships that you pilot in the racing league are fitted with weapons and other features such as protective shielding and autopilot which are activated by passing over special energy pads on the tracks surface. These can be used to eliminate opponents from the race or gain a crucial few second advantage. Along with these power-ups there are boast pads that grant you a welcome but short boast of extra speed.
In addition to conventional single races where you must finish in the top three for gold, silver or bronze medal awards there are other modes such as "Zone", time trial, head to head and the deathmatch "Eliminator" modes. By successfully completing each mode new challenges are unlocked on the course selection grid.
The main race selection campaign screen has a total of 16 grids and each of these consist of around 8-16 challenges a piece. While you don't need to complete every race there is enough content here that the average player will take around 10 and 15 hours to win the tournament, and thankfully you don't need to win a gold in every race.
There are a total of 12 different anti-G racing craft types available and these include the craft that were formerly available only as downloads, each craft being sponsored by a specific racing team in the League. Each craft has it's own unique characteristics regarding their racing performance dealing with attributes such as handling, speed, acceleration and shield strength.
Control is simple one button is used to accelerate, one button is used is fire collected weapons or activate power-ups and the directional pad steers and breaks can be applied for sharp corners. Collision with other crafts, sides of the track on sustaining weapon fire from opponents will lower shields and when these are gone you crash out of the race. Fortunately there are shield replenishment's available throughout the race should you find yourself running low on shield power.
The game itself runs at a blinding speed, sometimes almost too fast and maintains a consistent frame-rate throughout. The racing action is accompanied by a techno/electronic rock soundtrack that the series has been known for since it's original Playstation days in the mid to late 90s. The soundtrack includes music from established artists such as Aphex Twin and Mason.
As you make progress through the League challenges events become gradually and increasingly more challenging to complete as you would expect. The difficulty level and learning curve overall is overall perfectly balanced. In total there are 12 racing tracks each imaginatively designed and complete with features such as loops and sudden drops and corkscrews. Each track must be learned and memorized in order to be fully mastered, and sometimes knowing exactly when to veer to pick up a weapon, or speed boast can make all the difference between victory and defeat. Each track can be raced in either direction the direction you take being designated by whether the circuit is white or black.
Each of the 12 tracks is set in a different location in the world and each track has it's own background and history which described by an android like commentator at the beginning of each race which is a nice touch and adds greatly to the atmosphere of the game making it feel like real living future world.
As you progress through the game completing each challenge on the grid content can be unlocked and used in racebox mode where you are given the freedom to set up your own racing events which is another neat touch and adds to the replay value of the game.
The overall artistic style, presentation and graphics remain true to the original PSP game. Everything has a sleek smooth and polished look with shiny and reflective surfaces being something particularly deserving mention. A lot of work and attention of detail was clearly invested into making the game look as good as it possibly can. However the downside to all this is that each race event takes several seconds to load up even if you are trying to restart a race that has gone wrong you still have to wait for everything to boot up and restart. However the load times aren't significant enough to be a major hindrance to the enjoyment of the game.
As a neat little touch the game will record the number of events you raced, weapons used, number of times you used a speed boost your favorite craft used and so on. A few features that were included in the PSP version but are sadly lacking in this include online play and the ability being able to customize your crafts paint work.
Overall if you're a Wipeout fan without a PSP this is a must buy, if you own a PSP then you may be better off with the handheld version but you still won't go too far wrong with the PS2 version particularly as it includes all the download content. If you're a fan of future racing games in general then it's certainly well worth checking out if you own a PS2 as it is a very well made, presented and polished game that plays very well and presents a decent challenge to complete.
If ever you wanted a textbook example of how not to go about PR, then surely the farcical PS2 release of WipEout Pulse in 2009 is it. Sony's plan of attack seemed less intent on marketing the game and more with trying to deny it existed at all. There were no reviews in the run up to release day, no box-art pictures or screenshots on any websites, and bizarrest of all, open speculation literally within days of release that the game may not be published at all. Available to buy only from online retailers, the game's release date passed, followed by a confused silence from said retailers who claimed it was in stock but had in reality been given nothing to ship, before the game eventually surfaced to a predictably non-existent response a couple of weeks later.
And it deserved much better, because at a price-tag of £20, WipEout Pulse is an excellent value racing game. Basically a port of the futuristic PSP racer of the same name, the PS2 version contains all 16 courses and 12 vehicles bundled together on one disc (much of which was originally fragmented as paid-for downloadable content). This makes for an impressively sizable Race Campaign which comprises of a whopping 224 challenges, compared with the 80 available in the PS3's WipEout HD.
Other advantages that come with the new territory include analogue control (whereby quick, precise control is paramount) and the inclusion of a split-screen two-player mode. Playing on a bigger screen allows for a greater viewing distance (again, particularly important in high speed racers) whilst the structuring of the challenges into Grids allows for an organised challenge whereby tracks are unlocked as you go along and there's freedom to pick and choose which races you want to try. This means you'll never be prevented from progressing through the game because of one tricky challenge alone.
Less impressive is Pulse's uncharacteristically tatty veneer. Usually a safe bet for gorgeous visuals, this WipEout has plenty of style with its trademark dystopian cityscapes, but everything looks very basic - it's as if many of the buildings and backgrounds have gone through part of the animating process, but stopped short of the final coat of detail. At times, things appear almost completely starched of colour, with an unwelcome haze cast over some of the tracks, whilst the vehicles also lack detail and seem abnormally bright next to the muted look of the courses. That said, there is the odd smart touch, such as the on-the-screen rain effect used on the Fort Gale track, whilst the Zone modes two-tone colour-schemes look very good, even if they do succumb to some alarming glitches, such as scenery tearing or in some instances, the entire track disappearing for several seconds at a time.
The audio is similarly disappointing, with limp environment effects and a rubbish-sounding computer voice-over the chief offenders. The music is okay if over-familiar, with much of it having appeared in both the PSP version and WipEout HD, and it's still some way short of the classic soundtracks of the PSOne games.
Certainly, there are elements that could have been better; some of the loading times are truly colossal, and it takes an inordinate amount of time to unlock extra ship designs as Loyalty Points are accumulated in very stingy amounts. The handling is just a shade too slow to allow ideal control in the very fastest classes and thus it still doesn't feel entirely acclimatised to the PS2, yet despite all this, WipEout Pulse still offers a uniquely tough and enjoyable challenge. There are as ever four speed ranges, culminating in the demented 700kph+ Phantom class, where you'll really need to have mastered the airbrakes and courses to succeed. It's highly punishing, with some extremely narrow circuits and plenty of time being shed for scraping along the walls. But as all WipEout fans will attest, this is all part of the experience; there's no better feeling than scrubbing the seconds off lap times, turning those Time Trial bronze awards into golds. There's no question it's among the toughest racers available, but it's also one of the most rewarding - there's something quite exhilarating about belting around a circuit that seems as narrow as Monaco's streets are in an F1 race, judging all of the corners to a tee and getting a perfect lap.
It's a much more complete experience than its PS2 predecessor Fusion. The crafts are genuinely individual in terms of performance and the circuits are consistently of a much better standard, challenging the player to really get to know the corners, undulations and the equipment you're using. It also has a much more diverse range of race setups, all of which are integrated into the Race Campaign to ensure as much variety as possible. Aside from the self-explanatory single-races, tournaments, time-trials, speed laps and one-on-one races that form the basis of the challenges, there is also the addictive 'Zone', a kind of survival trial where you are tasked with rocketing around courses at ever-increasing speeds before your craft incurs enough damage to be destroyed by the scenery. The ace up its sleeve is 'Eliminator', which tasks the player with destroying the most opponents with the large array of weapon power-ups - it even includes a couple of new ones specific to this mode. The only slight criticism here is players only score points for a killing blow and are not rewarded for damage dealt, thus if you are fortunate enough to be given Quake's as a power-up, you can tear up the road ahead and destroy three or more opponents in one go. Still, it's loads of fun.
...And there are those 224 challenges which, even if you're familiar with the series, will take weeks to polish off, particularly those at Phantom speed which will require plenty of practice for those chasing a full set of gold medals. Less experienced gamers may find it inaccessible despite the relatively gentle early speed classes, but beneath an uncharacteristic ugliness, this is the same high-quality WipEout gamers have come to expect. It's probably the most feature-packed futuristic racer yet, and as such, is well worth investing in. If Sony want to sell it to you, that is.