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WipEout Pulse: This Pulse is Racing

Here's our vote for 2008 as The Year of WipEout. The original WipEout was a revelation, an experience that truly felt futuristic and laced with dangerous, raw speed. No amount of battle racing ever felt comparable after 1995 and even some of the follow-up games failed to meet the demanding bar first set by Psygnosis. I entered the series with Wip3out in 1999 and fell head-over-heels in love. The rather triumphant return of the series on PSP with WipEout Pure gave us a lot of fun at the moment of the purchase and produced a slew of new expansion packs for download. The web-enabled PSP proved to be a great platform for enhancing the single-player experience and the easiest way yet to strike up a race with a friend.

Now comes WipEout Pulse and boy, oh boy are you gonna be blown away. Don't even listen to anyone that says this is simply more of the same. That's like saying the whole WipEout series is just more of the same F-Zero or some such nonsense. Die-hard fans of the series will, of course, come looking for familiar teams and find them. Heavy, electro-beat music makes up the game's library of tunes as was the case in the past. The general feeling of the game and the progress you'll make through the various courses is true to the way most of the previous games have played. Anyone coming back to WipEout Pulse from a previous version will immediately feel comfortable and in familiar territory. Considering this, the differences between this and past titles are subtle, but numerous.

The biggest difference this time around is a much more robust multiplayer online. Races with eight distinct players can be launched or joined online with any number of set parameters. These are a blast and roll up to leaderboards that are looking very competitive even now. There doesn't seem to be one bit of slowdown or drag in the graphics and performance of WipEout Pulse when playing these big online competitions. There is always the issue of a server glitch or disconnection; this happened during one race and was a huge drag. Keeping up on these tracks is intense and requires almost a meditative focus - once this is broken, it feels like a major buzz-kill. The other differences show up in enhanced graphics. The display you'll see from your ship's cockpit or if you are looking at the track from a perspective behind the ship is amazingly realistic. As a setting, you can force the Heads-Up Display (HUD) to wrap as if it were being projected onto the inside of your racer. The HUD can also be set to move dynamically when you hit a bump or get bumped by an opponent.

The music and sound add-ons are very nice in this release. Adding custom music is something we've wanted to see before and it is here. The feature didn't work as well as we would have liked; there seemed to be remnants left on the profile after we had deleted songs, and the advertised number of custom songs allowed (30) didn't stack up for us. There aren't a huge number of original songs packaged with the game, but enough to keep you bumping until you can decide which tracks of your own to add. The artists included in the game are a nice mix of legends such as Aphex Twin and Kraftwerk with lesser known artists. I pushed a little Lady Sovereign and M.I.A. out there and was rocking along to my faves in no time. There were some volume discrepancies and an imperfect system for adjusting the level of sound effects versus music in this preview, but that may be ironed out in the final version. The sound effects are awesome, including the sound of airbrakes sliding into position as you tap the shoulder buttons.

The method for opening up new material (tracks, teams, etc.) is done through a grid system that gives you more flexibility to play your way. You'll also earn loyalty points with teams that you race frequently that can open up a new livery or additional content. The linked Web site for WipEout Pulse includes some neat leaderboard features and an incredible editor for ship design. Purists may scoff over the editor being available only through a PC/laptop browser rather than directly on the PSP browser. From my perspective, trying to create the same editing tools on PSP would be a flop. The system is designed to give you great control over the design tools and craft up to five custom types. You can then access the site with your PSP and download your custom designs. These can be raced in a variety of ways, since you can totally customize the grid once you open up a few tracks. You can even snap pictures mid-race and edit the angle and type of camera shot for maximum drama. If the idea of a classic formula coupled with user-created content and flawless, online, multiplayer action appeals to you, WipEout Pulse should be at the top of your list when it launches stateside in the next few months.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock
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