Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: WipEout Pulse

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0:00 I haven't played a badly-capitalized WipEout game since XL on the original PlayStation, so this should be a futuristic hover-racing blast from the past.

0:01 Stylistic, computer-styled menus flash by before some relatively standard hovercar porn video. "Welcome to WipEout Pulse," says a computerized voice.

0:04 I end up spending three minutes just sampling the 16 techno tracks in the options screen's Music Playlist. The soundtrack was big reason I got into WipEout originally, even though I don't listen to much techno in everyday life.

0:05 Time to dive into Campaign mode, "The definitive WipEout single-player experience." Definitive? Like there are so many others?

0:06 There's a nice initial selection of eight hovercars, but none of them ranks below a 6/10 in any one ranking area (handling, speed, etc.). So a 6/10 is bad? Are these car scores or game review scores?

0:07 I pick a car with low pick-up but good handling. Even so, I expect I'm going to be hitting a lot of walls, just based on my memory of WipEout's past.

0:08 Twenty seconds of loading and it's off to the races (har har). I like the spoken voice that introduces the backstory of the track. That's right -- the tracks have backstory.

0:10 Right off I'm very impressed with the extremely smooth frame rate, and I like how the PSP's wide screen makes it easy to see through turns. I don't like how the HUD makes it hard to tell when I've picked up a weapon, or what the weapon does. Also, my memory is a little fuzzy, but the original game seemed faster than this. The PSP is definitely powerful enough to handle full-speed original PlayStation games... What gives?

0:11 Race complete! A photo mode lets me save snapshots of a race replay, but none of them turn out to be very exciting. I got third place and a bronze medal, plus 135 "Feisar Loyalty" points, whatever those are.

0:14 Talon's Junction White became a secretive race track after the "grey goo incident" caused public financing to be withdrawn. I love that someone had to go to the trouble to write this stuff.

0:17 I'm most of the way through the third lap when the camera zooms out and my ship is destroyed by one too many wall scrapings. Guess I should have watched that energy bar a little better ... and watched where I was using those zoom power-ups, too.

0:18 No wonder this seems slower than I remember... I'm in the lowest speed class. It's fast enough, I guess, but it's not white-knuckle, seat-of-your-pants fast, yet -- which is the whole point of WipEout, so I hope it changes soon.

0:21 I try Talon's Junction again and finish in fourth place, mainly because I can't seem to hit the on-track speed boosters. It looks like I'm going over them, but nothing happens, so I guess I'm missing them. Judging these things is tough in a hovercar, I guess. Maybe I'm just rusty?

0:24 I like the new ability to absorb unneeded items to regain energy. It lets me survive long enough to finish in fifth place this time. I blame it on the BARRAGE OF MISSILES EVERY FREAKING TIME I PASS AN ENEMY CAR! Ahem. I'll try one last time.

0:27 GRAH! A second-place finish going into the second-to-last turn becomes a fifth-place finish as I get hit by a last-second missile. Forget this... time to try a time trial.

0:31 It's amazing how, once I get rid of the opponents, I end up with a gold medal on the time trial. It's true what they say: Hell is other hovercars. I'm also amazed that the already smooth graphics get even smoother when there are no other cars around.

0:32 In the "zone" race all the selectable hovercrafts are rated 10/10 across the board. So what am I supposed to choose? The best-looking one?

0:37 I like this zone mode... it keeps pushing the speed class faster and faster until you're bouncing off the walls and eventually explode. You don't even have to push the accelerator. I hit 867 kph, and boy does it feel like it. I get a silver medal for surviving 15 "zones." I feel like a kid getting off a roller coaster. Again, AGAIN!

0:42 This time I clear 20 "zones" and get all the way up to the Phantom speed class and 905 kph. Hoo-ee is that fun ... and hard to control. Whoo! Gold medal!

0:46 Going back to race at the Venom speed class feels downright sedentary now that I've tried Phantom. It's literally half the speed. At least it's more controllable, which doesn't help me on a time trial of a track I don't know. I'm four seconds behind the bronze time, mainly because I keep crashing into the ground. That's right, the GROUND! Freaking three-dimensional controls.

0:51 A repeat of the same time trial garners better track knowledge and a bronze medal. Seems a lot of success comes down to memorization of the turns. You know, like every other racing game ever made.

0:52 The Moa Therma track is "the very definition of Mediterranean glamour." I continue to be impressed and slightly concerned about the effort to create a backstory for these tracks?

0:57 Moa Therma is now my favorite track, with its gentle undulations and nice, wide roads that let me get up to speed without worrying about the walls overly much. What I don't like is having to hold the "up" button to get an aerodynamic speed boost. It's hard to hold up without accidentally tapping left and right, as well. This might be the point, actually, but it's still pretty annoying.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.

Why? It's been a while since I had a good, high-speed racer to enjoy, but it'll probably lose its luster once I learn the tracks.

This column was based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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