Insert pulses racing pun for this PSP sequel.
The first WipEout game on PSP went down something of a minor storm - the game was a return to the incredible quality of the earlier PSOne series and was the perfect accompaniment for any number of bus rides/train journeys/sitting in your room not taking your portable console outside experiences. So it may come as literally The Biggest Surprise In The World Ever that the newest WipEout on PSP - WipEout Pulse - isn't that far removed from the original. Pick your jaws up from the floor.
This is, of course, no bad thing - the first game came out way back in 2005 and there has been more than enough time between the releases for a hardly-thought out sequel to appear on the shelves. It's a good sign that the game isn't actually that poorly thought out at all and contains some great refinements to an already solid core. In the game itself the major addition comes in the form of mag-strips, simple partitions of the track that stick the racing ship to the track and let you go up, down, left, right, under, over, through - whatever. They just make races go all over the place, basically, and are certainly a welcome addition.
There have been some under the hood tweaks too - the computer isn't as sedate and somewhat brain dead as it was in the previous title, and most races - even on lower difficulty settings - offer something of a challenge to players. I can't count the number of times I've wanted to throw the PSP at a wall because my ship is stuck to a barrier. Bah. Speaking of difficulty, it's nice to see that all race classes are open from the very start of play, meaning veterans don't have to wade through all the usual unlocking crap to get to the real meat of the game - it's a nice nod to the fans from Studio Liverpool, and one that other sequel makers should pay attention to.
One of the bigger additions to Pulse comes with the online mode - it's pretty basic, but it certainly gets the job done and adds to the longevity of the experience ten-fold. Plus it means you don't have to know anyone locally with a PSP, as no one actually knows anyone else with Sony's handheld. It's the law, I tells ya.
Aside from the sparkling newness of many aspects in the game - some of which I'm sure I've forgotten (oh yes! There are new tracks too!) - the core experience is the one that everyone knows and loves. Even the people that don't love it, love it. They just haven't realised yet. WipEout is one of the finest racing series to grace our homes and the sublime mix of smooth futuristic hover racing and shooting the crap out of your opponents holds strong to this day. A series that always stood out on the PSOne, it has found a new home on PSP as one of the most visually stunning series the handheld has seen - it looks really, really good. Really. Surprisingly good in many ways.
Then, of course, there's the soundtrack. DJ so-and-so with some eclectic and relaxing beats, Ultra Mega 9000 with their relaxing future sounds and Plinth with their ode to the past in electro form - it's all there and it's all good. If not great. As well as the musical lovelies, each track has a history behind it as announced by the evil AI off of Command and Conquer Tiberian Sun - it's an odd decision to add some kind of history and story to a WipEout game, and while it makes no change to the game's dynamic whatsoever it is a decent enough touch.
Downloads will be in action for the game, just as they were with the last title on PSP - as well as the ships and tracks that we have come to expect, there should be extra skins for your racers too. Coupled with the loyalty earned through racing as one ship class consistently, players can really have something of an individual take on their game. Again, this isn't epoch-making, it's just a nice touch.
So: WipEout Pulse is another fine addition to the series, and yet another great reason to pick up a PSP. It may well be a handheld 'drowned in racing games' but when they're this good, who cares?