WipEout has always been a rock-solid racing series, but it’s also doubled as a technical showcase for whatever PlayStation system it happens to appear on. WipEout 2048 strives to do the same for Sony’s shiny new Vita, and it’s mostly successful.
As its name implies the year is 2048, the first year of anti-gravity racing. This is well ahead of other games in the series, leading to an interesting aesthetic. Its place just a few decades into the future means that familiar sights like the Empire State Building are present, but they’re surrounded by the bright colors and outrageous tracks that WipEout is famous for. We see a world on the cusp of diving into all-out sci-fi futurism, and we get to blow by it at 650 miles per hour.
Visually speaking, WipEout 2048 is one of the premier titles on the PS Vita. Vehicle and environments are highly detailed, and well on par with, if not exceeding, what you’d find on early PS3 releases. To say that it’s dazzling would be an understatement — this is exactly what the Vita’s OLED screen was designed for. This high level of visual fidelity does take its toll on the Vita’s battery, though, and 2048 managed to drain it faster than any game I’ve played, Uncharted included.
WipEout 2048 does its best to reach the blistering speeds set by its predecessors, but a couple of hiccups keep it from reaching that potential. The game takes its time to load, putting an immediate damper on getting into the action. It’s not quite as bad as ModNation Racers on the PS3 (or PS Vita, allegedly), but is far from acceptable. Once you do get into a race, you’ll find yourself hit with an inconsistent framerate once too many racers are on screen blasting each other with missiles. It’s not game-breaking, but it is noticeable.
WipEout 2048 is an exhilarating game when it’s working as it should, although there’s more luck involved than there should be. Winning single-player races in the campaign usually means spending two laps navigating through vehicles that were slowed down by others before getting to one lap of actual racing at the end. Even then you have to be careful, as light rubber-banding in the A.I. means you can get sucked back in if you slip up. There are also combat events in which no racing is involved, which are essentially destruction derbies to see who can get the most points. It’s a fun yet mindless affair, but the only way to avoid immediate frustration is to stay behind everyone, lest you be destroyed within thirty seconds by a barrage of rocket and cannon fire.
As a result, the two events in which you’re alone on the track are the most fun. Time trials are what you’d expect, but zones are the real standout. You’re tasked with getting around the track as long as you can before you destroy yourself, but the only control you have over your vehicle is steering it, and the speed ratchets up the longer you survive. The tracks are also acid-trip versions of themselves, with the familiar layouts slathered in neon reds, purples, greens, and pinks; WipEout 2048 never looks prettier.
The single-player campaign mixes all of these modes together throughout three seasons, spanning from the year 2048 to 2050. It’s all over rather quickly, leaving the bulk of the action in a separate online campaign. Events are grouped together in levels rather than seasons, but they’re pretty much the same thing. However, there are twenty levels online compared to the three seasons offline, so there’s much more to do. Racing online is also more about meeting objectives than it is about winning — not finishing last, hitting a specific player with a weapon, and so forth — and event types are voted on by everyone in the lobby. Heavy load times are still present, though, and are compounded by how long it can sometimes take to find a room.
If you’d like another flavor of online racing, there’s also the much-touted cross-play feature. Here 2048 players can go against those playing WipEout HD on their PS3s. However, the action all takes place within WipEout HD’s parameters and jumping between the two games can be jarring because of how differently they play, especially if you’re coming off several hours of playing through 2048’s campaign. Still, it’s a fascinating feature, and the promise of WipEout HD’s tracks and vehicles coming to 2048 as free DLC to those that own the PS3 game only sweetens the pot.
Whether you’re playing online or not, you’re always gaining experience points and leveling up your profile. You unlock more vehicles as you level up, and there are fifteen standard vehicles in all. Every ten levels you also earn the opportunity to unlock a prototype vehicle from one of the five different teams, and they all function differently than the standard vehicles. They’re tricky to use, but worth the effort.
WipEout 2048 is slightly hindered by technical niggles here and there, and can be too frantic for its own good. You can’t select exactly what track and mode you want to play unless you find that specific event in the campaign, and it even introduces motion-controlled steering, because it wouldn’t be a launch game without awkwardly-implemented features that demonstrates new technology.
Under those annoyances, however, is a solid racer with a robust online component. One that shows you that the Vita is capable of churning out visuals beyond what we saw in early PS3 and Xbox 360 games, right on day one. If you’re looking to pick up a racing game with your new Vita, you can’t go wrong with WipEout 2048.
FINAL GRADE: B