One thing I tend to ignore when reviewing Vita games is how well they work as portable games. This is mostly because I just don’t care. What I want are good games, whether they are ‘console-like experiences’ or ‘bite sized portable masterpieces’. This said, what really stuck out to me about Wipeout 2048 is that it isn’t really a portable game in the slightest.
The obvious reason for this is that the load time is about half as long as your ride to work/school. The load times have been improved in a patch, but just barely. What used to take over a minute now takes 45 to 50 seconds, per track, to load. This is especially crazy for the shorter races that you finish in 2:20. The loading is awful.
The larger and slightly more abstract reason that Wipeout 2048 isn’t a portable game is that it is really demanding, especially as a racer. Racing games in general require memorization of tracks to get the best times, but this is compounded in the Wipeout series by the need to memorize the speed pad placement. This isn’t helped any by the fact that while the tracks are absolutely gorgeous, the game all takes place in New York City, so the scenery all looks the same. As you approach a corner and look at the buildings around it, trying to remember if this is the corner with the speed pad on the inside or the outside, you will be forced to guess.
Memorization problems aside, the game is just hard. The AI is brutal; they will blow you up, put you into a wall, drive perfect lines, and just generally make it very hard on you. Thankfully the game has two different settings for progressing from event to event. To pass an event it’s usually something fairly straightforward, like coming in 4 or 5th place. But to get an elite pass you have to come in first. There are similar splits in the other modes – 30 points in combat will get you a normal pass and 75 will get you elite, for example. It works to keep people moving forward regardless of their skill level.
So even though I don’t really care, Wipeout 2048 is average at best as a portable game. The steep learning curve and long load times make this a difficult game to play in chunks. But if you approach your Vita like a home console Wipeout 2048 is an entirely different beast. In marathon sessions you will memorize every inch of a track and surprise yourself with the precision in which you cut seconds off your time. You will start getting gold medals and the feeling is absolutely kinetic. And for the truly hardcore there is a very long and well thought out multiplayer campaign that plays pretty flawlessly, even with opponents around the world.
The graphics in Wipeout 2048 are generally quite fantastic, but I do have some small quibbles. The biggest issue I have with racing games on the Vita (or any portable) is that with the smaller screen it can be hard to see what’s coming up on the track. To make up for this you need very clean track design with large and clear signage, letting you know what to expect. Wipeout 2048 has this and when you’re alone on the track everything is fine, but when racing against other ships they all leave behind a trail of what looks like distorted air (futuristic Co2?). Get a couple racers in front of you and it’s nearly impossible to see what’s going on, and this is made worse by the drop from previous Wipeout games from 60 fps to 30 fps.
I know this sounds mostly negative, but the core of Wipeout is still absolutely fantastic. If you have the time to sink into it you won’t find a more rewarding racer on a handheld system anywhere. The feeling of accomplishment, progression and growth in Wipeout 2048 is second to none. It is *almost* the Dark Souls of the racing world. But, with that in mind, if you are looking for something quick and easy stay away from this sucker. It will eat you alive.