Let's be honest, Wipeout 2048 likely isn't a game early PS Vita adopters are anxiously lining up for. Still, as someone who's played the series since doing so meant being tethered to a PlayStation, I was excited to see how the anti-gravity racer and Sony's new portable complemented each other. This umpteenth entry in the franchise doesn't do much to evolve the formula it was founded on but judging by the trigger-induced callous on my index finger the series still possesses the ability to satiate my need for speed.
When I first fired up Wipeout 2048, it was the graphics splashed all over that big, beautiful OLED screen that immediately grabbed my attention. It's not quite up to Uncharted: Golden Abyss' console-rivaling quality, but the visuals--complemented by vibrant colors and drenched-in-detail backdrops--are an obvious leap over any PSP offering. It doesn't hurt that one of the few things separating the game from its predecessors is its fresh setting; a prequel to previous entries, Wipeout 2048 trades the heavy sci-fi vibe that's defined the franchise in favor of a more relatable not-so-distant future New York City. It's pretty damn cool zipping over an old suspension bridge that's been partially updated with TRON-esque architecture, or exiting a neon tunnel to discover a contemporary cityscape stretching skyward before you.
Of course, thanks to Wipeout 2048's breakneck sense of speed, there's little time for sightseeing. The action never hits 60 FPS, but its lightning-quick pacing never lets on. Visual tricks, like trains traveling in the opposite direction of the tracks, heighten the effect. As testament to its lead-foot feel, a physical transformation overtook me during races; while completely calm at the starting lines, I'd often spend final laps with my fingers unconsciously clutching the Vita in a vice grip, my face just a nose-length from the screen. Toss in a generous amount of boost pads and the occasional mini-Bruckheimer moment--racing through an opponents' pavement-buckling "quake" attack is a highlight--and Wipeout 2048 rarely left me wanting for adrenaline-spiking thrills.
Sadly, its lengthy load screens might prove to be the next cure for insomnia. Pre-race load times, done no favors by a creeping percentage counter, can range from 30-60 seconds. That doesn't sound so bad, but with "40%" staring at me--after I'd already killed time catching up on Twitter--it's a little painful. Equally unbearable are the requisite touch controls. You can steer by tilting the device, accelerate by pressing the rear pad, and fire weapons and absorb energy by tapping the display. It's fun for a few seconds, if only to test the tech, but lacks the precision necessary to navigate a racer moving at these speeds. This is a minor gripe, as the more standard button-based controls will feel familiar to anyone who's ever held a DualShock. Additionally, utilizing the mandatory touch controls in menus is a frustration-free affair.
BOOM video 11644
A beefy single-player campaign, complete with varied challenges (races, combat, time trials, speed laps etc.), un-lockable ships, and an addictive progression system effectively kept me playing until I reached "just one more rank." There's also some branching along the critical path which allows for a little level grinding; not my thing, but it's there. On top of a several-hour solo mode, Wipeout 2048 supports ad-hoc, infrastructure, and cross-platform play. With the Vita in limited release at press time, I couldn't dig deep into these options, but my brief time online was noticeably lag-free and generally mirrored the quality my offline experience.
For those who've enjoyed previous Wipeout titles, this one will feel like an old friend. Its modest tweaks of a few new features and a fresh coat of paint thanks to Vita, though, probably aren't going to sell many systems. That said, if you've already played through Uncharted and are craving a quality racer, this one's worth taking for a spin.
[This WipEout 2048 review is based on the retail Vita version of the game, provided by publisher Sony.]