Wipeout HD, or, What a Sony $20 Digital Download Buys in 2008
There’s a list of reasons that the very idea of paying more than $10 for an iPhone OS game strikes me as… well, not unfathomable, but just a real big stretch. Number one on that list? Sony’s $20 game Wipeout HD for the PlayStation 3.
You might recall that I wound up with a PlayStation 3 as a holiday gift a couple of years ago, and said quite explicitly that I wouldn’t have purchased the console for myself because of its way-too-expensive price. And yes, Virtua Fighter 5 was very impressive—for the brief time it was a PS3 exclusive—but it wasn’t a “go out and get a console” sort of game for me. The thing that would have forced me to buy a PlayStation 3 is this title. Developed by Sony Liverpool and released yesterday, Wipeout HD is a futuristic racing game that continues a series originally responsible for helping to popularize the PlayStation platform in Europe. Unlike its predecessors, which have been sold on PlayStation discs and PlayStation Portable UMDs for $30-$50, Wipeout HD is digitally distributed as a $20, 1GB download through Sony’s PlayStation Network. And it is just awesome.
I love futuristic racing games, and consider 1996’s Wipeout XL—a collaboration between Sony’s Psygnosis studio and The Designers Republic—to be pretty much the pinnacle of that genre, with the possible exception of Nintendo and Sega’s jointly-developed F-Zero GX/AX. Wipeout HD is the first title since those two to really nail everything from the gameplay to the looks and sounds of speeding through far-future metropolitan race tracks. And it runs at 60fps in 1080p resolution, making the most stunning use I’ve yet seen of high-definition displays. Click through for more pictures and a few more details; this isn’t a full review, so I’m just offering a sampling of what’s here to be enjoyed.
Given the price, I’m almost flabbergasted by the sheer amount of detail and talent that went into everything in this title, from the menus to the ship and background designs, which are all so consistently excellent and seamless that you’d think they were easy to create. But they obviously weren’t. The interface has a wonderfully clean, modern design with complex animated 3-D tracks moving around in the background, extremely straightforward menu selections, and a great balance of text, white space, and art. Wipeout has been through generations of menus, many inspired by the work of The Designers Republic, and they keep getting better over time—interface design is one of those touches that distinguishes superb developers from the amateurs.
The in-game art is also superb. Ships and backgrounds both have a weathered look with enough texture and polygonal detail to be highly believable; this is a highly stylized future universe, but one that you get the impression could actually exist. Sony’s eight track designs include loops, sharp turns, and jumps, all with curved surfaces and surprising attention to the little details; speed-up arrows on the ground actually consist of elevated glowing lamps, the sort of detail you’ll only notice if you pause the game and look. There’s a lot of stuff like that in here, just waiting to be found.
Why? Because the game features a Photo mode that lets you create your own screenshots, complete with camera tools such as depth of field, motion blur, saturation, focus, and shutter speed adjustments. As such, though the initial screenshot above was taken in the midst of actual gameplay using a real camera, some of the others here were snapped mid-game with the in-game camera. You’d be amazed at how much detail our little screenshots lose out on—the in-game shots are 1920x1080 resolution. This crop shows the full-resolution ship, its body and background intentionally blurred with a depth-of-field camera effect.
While the series has never quite returned to the audio form found in Wipeout XL, where Sony actually listened little-known but ultimately amazing electronica tracks such as The Chemical Brothers’ Loops of Fury and Fluke’s Atom Bomb, the music and Dolby 5.1-channel sound effects here are really very good, and of course, you have the ability to listen to whatever other soundtrack you prefer while you’re playing. I’m probably going to put together some of the prior Wipeout XL tracks, along with some other anthem-quality techno, to add to what’s already here.
Given that Sony has set this sort of bar for a $20 game—high-definition graphics, a real soundtrack, a superb interface, and exciting, excellent gameplay—it’s really hard for me to look at iPhone OS titles and see them as worthy of even close to as much. Consumers rightfully expect to see lower prices when publishers don’t have to worry about manufacturing discs or cartridges, packaging them, shipping them, or getting rid of unsold inventory, and of course, the less content that actually goes into the title relative to a full Nintendo DS, PSP, or console game, the lower the price should be. For these reasons, Apple’s initial instinct to sell cell phone-worthy iPod Games at a fixed price of $5 was spot-on, and frankly, most of the App Store releases we’ve tested have been far sloppier, shorter, and/or less complete than the Click Wheel titles, which puts them in the dollar bin, value-wise. Having seen some developers try to charge twice as much for iPhone OS titles that are no better than their Click Wheel equivalents, my (and others’) initial reaction has been simple—“no way”—and despite all the phony reviews that developers have been posting for their own games in the App Store, it’s clear that customers are expecting better games for these prices.
Wipeout HD is a Sony PlayStation 3 exclusive. If you’re looking for portable versions of Wipeout, check out the PSP titles Wipeout Pure ($15-20) and Wipeout Pulse ($25-30), tracks from which are expanded upon in the PS3 version. It’s clear that Sony will be releasing additional downloadable content, including more tracks, more ships, and quite possibly additional art for HD, derived from the PSP titles and past PlayStation iterations of Wipeout. Given the very reasonable initial asking price, we’ll have no problem paying for that extra content when it’s released—the first time we’ve even considered doing such a thing. Smart strategy, Sony; let’s hope you continue to make equally wise decisions in the future.
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