Wednesday, 5 July 2017

WipEout Omega Collection- Faster Remastered

So the WipEout Omega Collection came out last month, and I’m not sure how I feel about all that. On the one hand- WipEout is bloody great! So great I will type its name in all its ridiculous stylisation. I love the pace and weird handling of the futuristic anti gravity racing and the sheer style of its presentation, and I have done since I unexpectedly got a PSP with WipEout Pure because it was the cheapest bundle.

On the other hand, this is merely a collection of content previously released over the last 9 years or so (most of which I’ve already tasted), and the reason there’s nothing much new here is because Sony ruthlessly killed the series by shuttering developer Studio Liverpool in what I still consider a targeted attack on my way of life. I bought it anyway.

What you buy is a package of the PS3’s WipEout HD, its vast and combat-focused expansion Fury, and WipEout 2048, which was previously exclusive to the ill-fated Vita handheld. That’s actually a hell of a lot- three full campaigns with several exciting modes, dozens of tracks and ships to choose from, comprehensive custom race options, and probably other things I take for granted as one steeped in the world of AG racing. Visuals are shined and polished in the way you’d expect from the now ubiquitous remaster release, with 4K support for PS4 Pro owners, and these games which were gorgeous to begin with look appreciably better even in 1080p.

WipEout is a unique experience- its floaty but fiercely quick hover-ships, complete with airbrakes and pitch controls, handle nothing like simulated cars, and though you pick up weapons from the track and hit boost pads where you can it’s certainly not like playing a kart racer. Every event is genuinely, pulse raisingly intense- races and battles due to the aggression and proficiency of your rivals, time trials due to the extreme precision needed to meet challenging targets, and all of them coming with a truly relentless sense of speed. Every discipline has its place, but my favourite remains Zone mode, a sort of survival event where you’re strapped into a ship that will continue accelerating forever, whether you’re crying or not, and must keep it in one piece for as long as you can before sweet relief comes in the form of inevitable disintegration.  

Moreover, the game is fucking cooool. The art direction on ships, scenery and even the interface is appealingly futuristic, although not believably so as it suggests the future is likely to be good. Race sounds, from the hum and whine of ships to the voice prompts warning you of incoming shooting, fit perfectly, and the driving electronic soundtrack contributes massively to the overall atmosphere. While plot is wisely left largely absent, there is a certain amount of pleasing background lore for those who care for it, with each of the game’s racing teams having a larger than life backstory. Effort and craft has gone into making the game’s vision and style coherent and attractive- particularly evident in the 2048 content, which covers the first days of anti-grav racing in a world recognisable but enhanced, contrasting with the WipEout HD’s extremely techy and far off era.

So I like it, but I liked it when I bought it before. The 2048 content is new to me, but only because I was too smart to fall for the Vita- everything else is familiar. The remake and remaster trend is nothing new, of course (and I do keep buying them, with Crash Bandicoot and Call of Duty 4 joining the collection last week), but I sort of resent the marketing of this release, playing to nostalgic fondness- “remember WipEout? Wasn’t it good?” Yes I remember, you bastards, and I remember how you cut it down in its prime! Supporting this release isn’t really a show of support for the series- Studio Liverpool, formerly Psygnosis, is dead, and given their intimate connection to the game from the very beginning it is safe to assume any future possibilities for this fairly niche franchise died with them.

Remastered re-releases of games seem to be a hallmark of this console generation- some of them are well executed and enhance the original, but all of them share the lazy basic premise of selling something they sold before. Digging up the classics is one thing, but the treatment being applied to a recently defunct series makes me uneasy. Yes, I enjoy having a new WipEout release to play through, and developer XDev has done a great job with this remaster (I’m assured it looks genuinely incredible in 4K)- however, the whole thing seems to amount to a requiem. Though sales have apparently been strong, I can’t see anything new for this unusual series, and without its parent studio holding the joystick I’m not sure I’d want it. So is this Omega Collection a treat for those who cared for WipEout and thought it was over, or a cynical effort to cheaply and easily cash in on a nostalgic fanbase who deserve better? Am I and the rest of the WipEout faithful being saluted, or exploited? It could be both- certainly what’s being sold here is quality- but I can’t help but wish WipEout hadn’t gone out like this.

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