Ever since the hilarious rumour that WipEout HD was delayed for health reasons, people who didn’t previously care about the game, suddenly started taking an interest in it. With this PR nightmare on their hands, you would think that Sony would do everything in its power to securely lock away any existing playable code of the game and keep it away from the media. But that seems farthest from the truth, and the fact that I was allowed to play the game at length during my recent visit to the Milestone office, probably means that the reason for the delay is less sensational than is being reported.
But let’s for a moment assume that playing WipEout HD at 1080p and 60 frames per second with multi-flourescent-coloured objects blazing by at astonishing speeds does pose a health risk to those suffering from epilepsy (described in Wikipedia as a chronic neurological disorder that is characterised by recurrent unprovoked seizures due to abnormal, excessive or synchronous neuronal activity in the brain). If I was someone suffering from epilepsy, I would gladly risk an epileptic attack, just so I could feel the rush of playing WipEout HD; it’s that good!
The build I played is probably months old, but with its visual polish and instantly familiar controls, it may as well have been the retail code, which makes the reason for its delay even more confusing. Besides the online functionality, split-screen support and trophies, it seemed to be the full game, with game modes stacked with events and an array of crafts ready to hit the track. Before I get into the other features, let’s get the most important factor out of the way – the controls. Anyone who’s played a WipEout game before will be right at home with WipEout HD; it’s classic WipEout. The SIXAXIS controls were not available in this build, but it will take some astounding motion control implementation to get seasoned WipEout players to abandon the ever-intuitive traditional controls.
You can either tackle the single player campaign by progressing through the tournaments or through individual events. This build had 8 tournaments, each consisting of up to 6 events. The different events include Speed Lap, where you’re required to beat the target lap time, the Single Race, with a full field of opponents, power-ups, weapons, everything, and Time Trials. These individual events are also playable through the Race Box menu option for those just looking for a quick race or two without having to enter a tournament.
The Leipzig trailer
My favourite mode however was the Zone mode. Those who’ve played Pure and Pulse on the PSP might be familiar with it, but WipEout HD adds a new twist to it. You start the event in a vanilla grey or white track environment. But the environment changes according the music that’s playing. Your screen is awash with neon, and the colour patterns change with every change in track or tempo. These damn-near blinding colours, coupled with the techno soundtrack, which without WipEout would sound excruciatingly unbearable, is an assault on the senses that will keep you riveted. As you pick up speed and enter new zones, the colour transitions too become more intense, making your craft feel like its travelling twice as fast as it actually is. However, the high speed, high-tempo music and neon lights screaming by at 60 fps can leave you a little exhausted. I was playing on a 40-inch plasma and five minutes into the event, I could feel a headache coming on, but I was loving every second of it.
Visually, apart from a few clipping issues at the start of a race as the camera moves around your craft, WipEout HD is immaculate. Textures on both the crafts and tracks are as seen in the screenshots and trailers – brilliant. There’s also a photo mode where you can freeze frame during replays and save a photo, with 360-degree camera rotation, blur, zoom, and tilt effects for you to play around with.
A few months ago, after the repeated delays in the game’s release, I went ahead and bought Fatal Inertia for the Xbox 360, hoping it would fill the void. How foolish I was! Apart from the fact that Fatal Inertia is a less than average game, nothing can give you the anti-gravity racing adrenaline rush WipEout can. With Sony finally tying down WipEout HD to a fall release, the wait is finally coming to an end, and if they can get online to work well, its going to be well worth it.