It is not often that I feel the need to acquire a console at launch. I am the type who usually ends up joining the new generation a year or two late (when said console's price has decreased considerably). That said, what was my main motivation for acquiring the new PlayStation Vita as soon as was humanly possible? Check the title of this review. As an afficiando of the series, I needed to own the latest installment right away. Is WipEout 2048 as impressive as its predecessors or did Studio Liverpool hit the brakes?
For those unfamilar with WipEout, this PlayStation exclusive franchise is most simply described as "F-Zero meets Mario Kart". That is, a futuristic racer that is very combat-oriented. 2048 is a prequel to the other games in the franchise. It takes place during the very first official anti-gravity racing circuit. It's a rather interesting direction they took, as many of the tracks look much more like they would be from a time period closer to ours (i.e. racing on real asphalt roads in more urban environments). Overall I was pleased with the new tracks. The environments surrounding the tracks are extremely detailed; Simply put, the game looks amazing. Especially for a launch title. WipEout games are usually known to push the limits of their respective consoles, and this entry is no exception. Whereas I had previously thought such graphics were impossible to achieve on a handheld, here they are right in the palm of my hands.
But enough about the aesthetics. It is still a video game after all, so let's look at gameplay. Well the gameplay is really what you would come to expect from WipEout. Aside from some new tracks, everything else is standard series fare. The same weapons, same teams, and even the same modes. Well, actually not all the same modes. Studio Liverpool seems to have gotten rather lazy with this one. Unlike the previous few games in the series, there is no "Racebox" feature that allows you to simply choose a track, choose a gameplay mode, and go. Instead, the Single Player mode consists only of the Campaign Grid, so instead of being able to go to the very convienient Racebox, you have to find the event on the grid that has the track and mode you wish to play. Not a huge deal I guess, but I cannot really see why they would not take a little extra time to include that. Outside of that however, the standard WipEout modes remain there. Race mode, where you have to outsmart and outgun your opponents; Zone mode, where the goal is simply to survive until the perpetually increasing speed causes you to lose control and destroy your ship; and Combat mode (traditionally called Eliminator mode in the other games), where it's all about using the weapons to open up a can of whoopass on the opposition until you have the highest score when time runs out. Again, if you are already a veteran of this series, there is not really too much to say because it is more of the same. Which is not neccessarily a bad thing, considering that this is merely a handheld launch title and all you really want is just what you're accustomed to.
The soundtrack however is another thing I found to be rather subpar. It is decent, but nothing to write home about, really. Usually, the WipEout series offers a very delightful array of techno remixes to constitute its music but...there was hardly anything that stood out to me on this soundtrack. Others give 2048's soundtrack much praise, but in my personal opinion, Pulse and HD Fury had better ones to be sure. Still though, it is decent and helps keeps you moving in the heat of the race.
The last part to talk about is this game's online mode, where I have found that they have sort of dropped the ball in their execution of it. Unlike HD Fury's online system where you simply scroll through a list of games and choose one that interests you, or just host your own, 2048 utilizes an "online campaign". So instead of being able to scroll down a convienient list and find a game that has your desired event and speed class, there is a grid full of pre-determined events that you play through with other players. I suppose this isn't a really bad way of handling it, it just isn't as good as HD Fury's online system if you ask me. To be fair though, the good side of handling it this way is that it makes it easier to play with a multitude of other players instead of having a bunch of semi-empty rooms because everyone is trying to host their own. Another positive point is that 2048 can cross play with HD Fury! (if you don't already own the Fury expansion pack though, you will have to purchase it.)
On the whole, despite the criticisms I have given, the most important thing remains intact: the amazing gameplay. The races, combat challenges, and zone modes are still just as great as you would come to expect, so aside from the presentation issues and such, WipEout 2048 is still a great game and a definate must own on the Vita whether you are a series fan, or a new Vita owner in search of the good games.
Overall Grade: B+
+Fast paced, incredible anti-gravity gameplay
+Easy to pick up and play, even if you're new to WipEout
+Incredible visuals which help enhance the gameplay experience
-Lack of "Racebox" feature
-Rather uninspired ship designs this time around
Reviews you can trust.