Though WipEout 2048 is the latest in a long line of racers going all the way back to 1995, in terms of Anti Gravity Racing history it's the earliest in the series.
The intro provides all the context you need, explaining where humanity has come from to get to AG racing and illustrating why the season depicted in the game is so special.
Thankfully, Studio Liverpool has done justice to this slice of future history: WipEout 2048 is one of the best Vita launch games.
Yellow, white and blue
While WipEout games set after 2048 feel clean and clinically futuristic in design – the cool palette of WipEout 3, the neons of WipEout HD – this first Vita release presents a world very much within our grasp.
The ten courses are not purpose-built - they're converted city streets and current day architecture temporarily re-purposed for this new motorsport. Races take place up the sides of skyscrapers and through parks, criss-crossing subway networks and scorching through American Football stadiums.
Environments are naturalistic, with dust and debris swirling about them. Everything seems authentic, which compels you to complete championships for another tantalising glimpse into a 'what if?' future.
You're accompanied by an electronica score from well-known artists, including Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy. Though not as iconic as WipEout 2097's soundtrack, it still has a hard dance energy that perfectly fits the overall mood.
On the track, WipEout is a changed beast, though the basics remain the same. There are speed pads and weapon pick-ups to augment your craft's abilities temporarily as you skim above the ground, firing rockets and cannons at opponents and gliding over boosts to get ahead of the pack.
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Air brakes are used sparingly, only brought out for pulling off sharper turns and side-swiping competitors. Racing lines are important, though not as much as in, say, an F1 title. You can even go off the beaten path, taking tricky shortcuts to get the edge over your rivals.
You race with one of five different teams, each with four models of ship that have their own distinct handling model favouring either aggression, flat out speed, defence, or nimbleness around corners.
Standing in stark contrast to the courses, their design is sleek and futuristic - far more in tune with other titles in the series.
They fly rather differently to previous outings, though, feeling more grounded and palpable than in other WipEout games. Fellow racers are all too happy to abuse this new heft, actively jostling for position and barging past you.
The game tracks your career as a pilot, giving you experience points that build your overall rank, unlocking new challenges and ships.
You're rewarded for almost everything you do during races, such as drafting or destroying competitors. Getting a couple of Passes or achieving a significantly more difficult Elite Pass will see you shoot up the ranks.
When you've exhausted the single-player, it's on to the online Career mode for more experience acquisition. Instead of being rewarded solely on your finishing position, you're assigned tasks to perform, such as destroying a specific racer. It's a bold idea, and one that encourages you to take on others no matter your skill level.
However, there's no way to set up private matches, and the load times between each are lengthy - an issue that plagues the rest of the game too. It can take 45 seconds to get into a race, which is totally at odds with the normal pace of play.
There's also Cross Play functionality to sample tracks from WipEout HD, but the controls aren't optimised for the different handling model, and the visuals suffer from aliasing, undercutting the point of the hard lined PlayStation 3 release.
Without question, this is the best handheld WipEout. The controls are tight, there's loads of content, track design is some of the best the series has to offer, and it's as fast as ever. The achingly long loading times are a nuisance, though, and while the multiplayer is nuanced it doesn't get the fundamentals right.2048 is a must-have racer, providing an experience that simultaneously pushes the series forward while holding on to everything that makes it great.
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