Here's a controversial theory: WipEout Pure is really a puzzle game.
Sure, it centres on steering a variety of futuristic hovercrafts around its 16 circuits in what can only be described, with any honesty, as a race. And yes, we've filed it under the 'Racing' genre.
But WipEout Pure has a unique Get-Knocked-Down and Get-Up-Again style of play that feels more like the Just One More Go-ism of Archer McLean's Mercury than the easy riding of Ridge Racer.
You see, in Sony's version of the future, transportation designers will concentrate more on vehicular pointiness than on ease of control. Pure's craft can go at quite a clip – provided, at least, you can keep them on track with nimble use of the directional air brakes and hairpin turns. This combination of twisty circuits and flighty craft makes new courses almost impossible to navigate without more clunking than a Bruce Forsyth routine. You simply must learn the circuits to get around them.
Of course, all racing games feature a somewhat stepped learning curve for the same reason (try a brand new course on the Xbox 360's Project Gotham Racing on Xbox Live to plumb new depths of humiliation). But WipEout Pure is really all about the circuit. A great way to appreciate this is in its Freeplay mode, while racing your ghost. You can watch yourself learning the turns. Then you can try a new heavier/faster craft, hit a wall, and do it all again.
Whether you like Pure will depend on how you take this kind of challenge. Sure, it's also a racing game where you can blast, bomb, or shield yourself against your opponents via pickups, and it's got all the leagues, tournaments and multiplayer modes you'd expect, with the latter pitting you against up to seven other racers over wi-fi. (There's also an interesting single-player Zone mode, where you race faster and faster until your ship can't take it any more). It's a treat to listen to, as well, with 20 exclusive musical tracks from the likes of Royksopp, Aphex Twin and DJ Tiesto. And, bar a few glitches when the screen gets really crowded, it's as beautiful as anything on the PSP to look at (although that unforgiving track design means little time to take in the lavish sci-fi-scapes you sail past).
But WipEout Pure is mainly about the circuits: learning and beating them. This theory is backed up by creator SCE's one real innovation for the PSP version of WipEout - monthly downloadable content, which gives you extra circuits to bang your ship and head against, as well as new craft and skins, and some golden olden material from WipEout's glory days on the PlayStation.
On that note, where WipEout once felt as new wave as the anti-gravity racing it depicted, there's nowadays something curiously retro about the experience; not just in its creator's clear desire to recapture the original essence of the series in its first PSP outing, but in the entire WipEout concept. Gamers raised on a diet of licensed cars and extra-realistic racetracks might find Pure a little aloof. From the clubby late '90s-sounding electro to the oddly disengaging end of a race, WipEout feels more detached from the roaring din of digital motorsports than ever before.
Ultimately, WipEout Pure is about rhythm: the pulsing soundtrack, the regular picking-up and unleashing-of weaponry, and the dunk-dunk-dunk of your craft hitting the side of the circuit eventually being replaced by you triumphantly leaning your PSP left and right into the curves in total sympathy with your craft, as you complete your first race without a single crash. Until the next new course, that is.WipEout Pure is on sale now.