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Joystiq hands-on: WipEout HD race-ready at last


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All the pre-race checks have been completed, the airfoils trimmed, and the antigrav systems brought online for WipEout's debut on PS3. Following up on our recent PAX '08 hands-on, Sony invited us for one final go at the game before it hits the PlayStation Store for $19.99 "within the next few weeks."

Having already made certain you know just how jaw-droppingly gorgeous it is in action, we really wanted to focus this playtest on the gameplay nuances and taking an under-the-hood look at the most interesting bits and bobs of the completed game. So, strap in and continue reading after the break.

Gallery: WipEout HD (09/12/08) | 16 Photos

No matter how good the game looks – and, again, it's stunning – the 1080p, 60fps visuals (which we seem to recall hearing could never be done when PS3 was announced) can only carry it so far. It has to control well ... not only to be fun, but to live up to its pedigree. Thankfully, while this racer is challenging even in its introductory Venom class races, it drives (if that's even the right term) like a dream.

For those who find themselves smacking into the sides of the track more often than they'd like, there's a "training wheels" option of sorts in Pilot Assist. Turning this on (it can be done in-race or from the options menu) makes it impossible to hit or even graze the course boundaries – you're simply nudged away from them like a strong magnetic field is at work.

"We spent about three hours playing and only scratched the surface of the campaign mode."

That's not really the way to play the game, but it's good for beginners (or even veterans who are too busy gawking at the scenery to, you know, steer). Racing with unassisted controls made heavy use of fully analog air brakes for taking corners at absurd speeds and gave us the chance to try the game's optional tilt-based controls. We attempted a few races using it, at varying sensitivity settings.

It wasn't awful – as we've found in many implementations – but we definitely enjoyed the game more using a good old fashioned analog stick. Given that the series now features barrel rolls (which give you a brief boost when landing, at the expense of some ship energy) control precision really is paramount.

We took the game through campaign, race box (single race), and online modes, the latter being devoid of any noticeable lag, even with competitors slamming into (or being obliterated around) us. We found that holding L1 opens the voice chat channel in online races, although we were sadly sans headsets.

Overall, we spent about three hours playing and only scratched the surface of the campaign mode, which gave us confidence that the game's downloadable nature doesn't speak to its longevity in the least.

"WipEout HD is part of a new breed of PSN titles that look, sound, and feel like large-budget retail releases."

In-between races, we took time to fiddle with various options and dig up as much as we could on the little details we hadn't really seen before. Of course, we immediately hit the PS button and checked out the Trophy collection of the system we were playing on. There were a total of 39 Trophies listed for WipeEout HD, including one we earned simply for trying out the photo mode (which, by the way, provided the new screens of the game you're looking at).

The photo mode was so-so; the game lacks the ability to view and save replays, so it's limited to whatever you can see on-screen when you hit pause. There are some depth of field and motion blur effects to play with, and it's nice that your photos are saved to the HDD for sharing.

All told, the game features eight tracks (six from WipEout Pure and two from WipEout Pulse) – 16 if you count the reverse variants of each. The final team roster is set at 12, and their unique ships, like the tracks themselves, are unlocked for use in single and online races by achieving set point levels in the campaign.

Along with Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty, WipeEout HD is part of a new breed of PSN titles that look, sound, and feel like large-budget retail releases. As for when we'll be able to fire the game up at home, Sony was still tight lipped on an exact date, but we were told to expect that detail to be firmed up within the next few days.

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