It's been a long wait, but is Sony Liverpool's futuristic HD outing any good, and what does it mean for PSN?
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Whatever else WipEout HD may be proof of - the muscle under the PS3's bonnet , Sony's commitment to PSN - it's first and foremost a testament to the enduring power of WipEout. Of all the signature PlayStation franchises, Sony Liverpool's searingly stylish racing series has aged the best, while somehow changing the least.
We find this a little disturbing, to be honest. No game has a right to shrug off the march of time so effortlessly, to excel again and again (Wipeout-Fusion-shaped wobbles aside) with so little in the way of fundamental revision. There are superficial alterations, of course, as there have been with every iteration - new courses, new modes, online functionality - but all of them fold away seamlessly into that classic kaleidoscope of speed pads, weapon pick-ups and air brake turns. The initial craft selection - from the slow but manoeuvrable Feisar to pacey but unwieldy Piranha - returns almost entirely intact; missiles, mines and disruptor bolts are as catastrophically over-powered as they ever were; trackside environments once again brim with incidental life. Every twist and turn of the racing model is familiar, every yaw and pitch as instantly recognisable as the PlayStation controller symbols themselves.
WipEout HD doesn't merely rehash the series' guiding principles, of course - its 16 (or eight reversible) tracks have been pilfered pixel by pixel from the superb PSP games - WipEout Pure and WipEout Pulse. Pure's finest contributions are Sol 2 and Ubermall: the former an exhilarating romp through the lower stratosphere (commercial airliners dart beneath the track as you hit the penultimate straight), while the latter tours the cavernous arcades and peaks of a twenty-third century shopping complex. Pulse meanwhile supplies two fan favourites: the Blade-Runner-esque Metropia, with its glass-bottomed track and gut-wrenching vertical plunge, and the Moa Therma course with its colossal loop-the-loop.
Pulse also provides the template for WipEout HD's elegantly minimalist mode selection. The campaign is divided into a series of "fliers", each made up of different events laid out on a hexagonal grid. Completing one event unlocks those around it, and more arduous fliers become available once you've accumulated enough medals. Events and tracks unlocked in the campaign mode can then be reassembled into fliers of your very own in the Racebox.
The events are split between four speed classes - with Venom being the slowest and Phantom face-smearingly swift - and five race modes. Time Trial and Speed Lap are self-explanatory, while Single Race pits you against seven other pilots in a straightforward fight to the finish. Tournament is a series of Single Races, with victory going to the highest aggregate score.