Gadling's resident pilot explains what life in the cockpit is like

PSP Fanboy review: Wipeout Pulse

Wipeout Pure remains, to this day, one of the top rated PSP games of all time. And for good reason, too. When it debuted with the PSP launch, it delivered unparalleled graphics, tons of content, and a huge assortment of downloadable content that made Pure a great value for any racing fan.

Nearly three years later, Studio Liverpool finally returns to PSP with the next installment of the Wipeout franchise. Wipeout Pulse attempts to do the impossible: improve upon the formula they created with Pure. Undeniably, they have succeeded.

Gallery: Wipeout Pulse

When booting up Wipeout Pulse, players will find a sexy new interface. Gone are the clean whites and blues of Wipeout Pure. This high-contrast, dark expression, evokes a grittier feel. We like! The meat and potatoes of the game will be found in the Race Campaign mode, described as "the definitive Wipeout single player experience." We'd have to agree.

Here, players will see Pulse's new and unique way of progressing through the game. There are a number of grids (16 in all). In order to move on, players must sufficiently clear each grid. Grids are comprised of various challenges, such as single races, time trials, speed laps, and more. When a player completes a certain challenge, they'll be awarded a medal and points, applicable towards unlocking the next grid. Every completed task opens up a new area, allowing players to choose events at their own whim. This allows players to progress through the game, even if they haven't mastered a certain aspect of the game. For example, Zone mode returns in Pulse. This exhilarating mode propels your ship faster and faster, reaching post-Phantom speed levels. Players must survive as long as possible, by avoiding the course walls, as their ship continues to pick up momentum. It's white-knuckled fun, but those that find it a bit too stressful can attempt to opt out, and choose other trials instead.

One of the new modes that we're enthralled with is Eliminator. This mode was absent in Pure, and its return in Pulse is much appreciated. Eliminator is all about destruction. Although racers are placed on a track, the goal isn't to reach the finish line. Rather, it forces players to use weapons to destroy as many of the other racers as possible. It's an interesting change of pace from the regular game, and it's incredibly satisfying to see the explosive debris of those you decimated.

Weapons are incredibly powerful in Eliminator mode, even more so than their standard race counterparts. However, it appears weapons have become much more powerful from the days of Pure. Dying from shield failure is an actual threat in this game, and players must keep careful eye on their energy. The ships are faster than ever, and the courses even more devious. Shields deplete faster than before, so the decision to use a weapon, or absorb it for health, becomes even more crucial.

That was one of the most strategic additions in Pure, and we're glad to see it made the transition to Pulse. Many of the weapons return from Pure, but there are a few new ones. Studio Liverpool smartly made some of these weapons exclusively for Eliminator mode, as they would've been too powerful in the regular race. For example, there's the Repulsor, which sends a shockwave out of your ship, damaging any that happen to be nearby.

Some gamers have never liked the weapons of Wipeout, opting for a more pure racing experience, akin to F-Zero. While weapons can't be disabled altogether in the Campaign, the adjustable difficulty will give everyone an experience that's appropriate for their tastes. In previous Wipeout games, difficulty was directly tied to the speed class: faster speeds meant more competitive racers. However, in Pulse, they have been separated, to great effect. Pros can make even the slowest races incredibly challenging with the deadly hard AI. (We call these races "the fastest traffic jams ever." There won't be much difference between first and last place, as it becomes incredibly difficult to break out of the pack.) Those that want a more race-focused experience can opt for the easier AI, where they become far less aggressive with the weapons. There's no real penalty for going to a lower difficulty, so racers of all skill levels should be able to see what the game has to offer.

And boy, does the game have a lot to offer. The Campaign mode will take dozens of hours to complete, especially for those that want to get Gold medals on every event. With so many game modes in this iteration of the franchise, there's a lot to do. Not only are there more modes than ever before, there are more tracks, 24 in all. These new layouts are inventive, and feature some breathtaking plummets and new Maglev-equipped twists and turns. At the fastest speeds, the game really does feel like a rollercoaster ride. Even better -- there are Zone levels for each of the tracks!

Visually, Pulse manages to somehow outdo its predecessor. Superior lighting, a smoother framerate, and better particle effects are just some of the visual treats you'll find in the game. Yes, Wipeout Pulse is one of the prettiest games on Sony's handheld. The Zone tracks are particularly alluring, with their Tron-esque visuals and buttery framerate.

A big new focus for Pulse is its focus on user-generated content and community. The Racebox allows players to create their own custom grids, and set up races with their own parameters. We can see players getting really involved in creating grids of their favorite levels and race types. For example, our Memory Stick is loaded with tons of Eliminator and Zone matches.

Not only that, players can unlock a number of skins by gaining "Loyalty Points" with each craft. These are akin to experience points in RPGs, and can be accumulated by partaking in any of the game's numerous modes. It takes a long time to unlock a new skin, so some players may be prompted to go online and take advantage of the game's skin editor. By going online to the Wipeout website, players can create their own ship skins.

Amazingly, players will be able to take their custom ships to the online arena. Yes, one of the biggest additions to Pulse is the ability to play online against human players in Infrastructure mode. The Wipeout website will keep track of your stats, and you'll be able to easily log in using your PLAYSTATION Network ID. With ship customization, free online play, stats tracking, and the ability to log into a unified PSN ID, Wipeout Pulse is truly bringing the online console experience to the handheld.

Truly, there is too much gameplay to be found on this UMD -- and we haven't even talked about the game's excellent in-game photo tool, which allows players to take snapshots from within the game. Also, there's a good amount of DLC being readied for the game post-launch. Eight additional tracks would increase the life of the game even further.

Wipeout Pulse manages to outdo its predecessor in every way, an impressive feat in and of itself. With its comprehensive offline and online features, and user customization tools, Wipeout Pulse stands as a prime example of what all PSP games should try to be. Pulse is the new benchmark for PSP games -- one we don't expect will be challenged too easily in the immediate future.

PSP Fanboy score: 9.5

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