It's difficult to approach a review for WipEout Pulse without first eulogizing about WipEout Pure. The game was a unequivocal success story for the PSP and a promise for the console's future. It proved beyond doubt that the PSP was packing some serious heat under the hood, and that Sony still knew how to make games that left gamers breathless and critics humbled.
And so how does a successor step out from such an imposing shadow; how can WipEout Pure be improved upon? In WipEout Pulse's case the answer is, it seems, in every possible way.
The gameplay is pitch perfect, the game is bursting with content and visually, where Pure was arguably the first word on the PSP's capabilities, Pulse could well be the last (not that God of War: Chains of Olympus won't have something to say about that).
WipEout Pulse is beautiful. Steam rises from the sides of the tracks, floodlights sweep the straights and if you aren't speechless after spiraling through Arc Prime's near vertical plunge out of the sky towards a Monaco-esque coastline panorama, then perhaps gaming just isn't for you.
The ships reflect the raving luminescent colors that jostle and spark from every corner and even during the most frenzied moments, the frame-rate never dips. And as for that trademark speed, don't worry – WipEout Pulse retains the series' retina scorching pace in spite of all of its fresh graphical flourishes.
That sense of speed is something the WipEout series has always made seem effortless. A sense of real scale, however, is a far harder trick to pull off. Though the earlier courses may feel a little stunted, by the time you've progressed onto the second speed class, you will be traversing terrain that is as tall as it is long and that in some sections induces a very real feeling of vertigo.
But as always, it's the combination of racing while bombing, shooting and exploding the living daylights out of your fellow racers (check out the weapon details here) that really make a WipEout game and on that score Pulse is as finely tuned as a concert piano – albeit one that's been tuned by Aphex Twin – and as subtle as an anti-gravity death machine travelling at 600kph can be.
Like Pure the single-player campaign is comprised of a series of different events and veterans will be pleased to see the return of the Eliminator mode. Each of the 12 courses is included in 'Black' and 'White' variants, where the latter is a mirror image of the former, which boosts the track count to 24. As such, the Race Campaign is enormous, with a whopping 236 separate events spread across a grid system.
There are eight teams to choose from and loyalty points are awarded each time you race, which encourages sticking with the team you pick in order to unlock all of the available ship skins.
Get through Race Campaign, and anyone looking for additional content will find Racebox, a mode in which you can custom define the parameters of any of single event or even create your own campaign grids.
But it's the online element that really sets Pulse apart. Besides the infrastructure and ad-hoc multiplayer modes, there's a WipEout portal linked from the main menu. Once in you find the option to upload all of your statistics to a leaderboard, upload and download Time Trial Ghost saves and (via the aid of a PC) create custom skins, which can then also be uploaded and downloaded from the WipEout portal.
Then, of course, there are the download packs, which take the number of teams up to 12 and the number of tracks up to 32. Sony, clearly feeling like it had missed a trick with the popularity of the free Pure DLC, has seen fit to charge £3.50 a pop this time. It is a tad annoying and some will resent the extra £14 required to get the 'full experience'.
Any other niggles? Well, there is the glaring omission of an option to stream custom soundtracks from music stored on your Memory Stick. A shame even though there are several licensed tracks included on the UMD.
But let's not split hairs over what is already a hugely comprehensive package straight out of the box. Now, more than ever, WipEout is more game than lifestyle product; less Ministry of Sound goes to the races and more like the fully featured realization of a winning formula with conquering style that Studio Liverpool was always set to deliver. For anti-gravity racing, and indeed for the PSP, it currently doesn't get much better than this.