Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Third Rate Game Play: Wipeout 2048

Game: Wipeout 2048

System: PS Vita

Developer: Studio Liverpool (Wipeout Series)

Publisher: Sony

Player: Alex

Experience: Played Demo

Check out the article after the jump!

With the launch of the PlayStation Vita, Sony released a large number of first-party offerings in an attempt to bring the buyers to the new handheld in droves.  When the dust settled, there were a few stand-out titles among the many, one of which was the latest edition of the Wipeout series, Studio Liverpool’s Wipeout 2048. 

Studio Liverpool had been a part of Sony for nearly two decades, but even before that, it was a well-known developer worldwide, Psygnosis.  The history of Psygnosis itself begins in 1980 with the founding of Bug-Byte Software by Tony Baden and Tony Milner.  The company had produced a number of games onto Commodore and Sinclair computer platforms, especially the ZX Spectrum.  Earlier games developed by the company include Space Invaders variants (Atom Invaders and Spectral Invaders), BreakOut variants (Another VIC in the Wall), and Manic Miner.  By 1982, programmer Eugene Evans and other staff left the company to form Imagine Software, and shortly thereafter, Manic Miner’s Matthew Smith left to join Software Projects.  Bug-Byte would only exist a few years longer before the economy fell for the company; it would be acquired by Argus Press PLC in 1985.

Imagine Software took a unique approach in its releases, focusing on high-budget packaging and advertising, as well as producing massive, ambitious projects using the computer platforms, unseen in the British gaming industry at the time.  The company’s first release, the shoot ’em up Arcadia, received great praise for its quality packaging and contents.  Other releases include Ah Diddums, flight simulator Zzoom, and platformer Jumping Jack (known as Leggit! on Atari and Dragon 32 computers).  Despite the praise, however, Imagine Software was not doing well financially.  The company continually had issues paying for the many advertisements it commissioned, and it eventually led to a court hearing for debt reclamation.  Imagine would close in July 1984, leaving the back catalogue with Beau Jolly and the name to Ocean Software.  As a label, Imagine Software’s last release would be a port of Victory Road.

After Imagine Software closed, employees founded two companies: Psygnosis and Denton Designs.  Denton Designs was comprised of most of the team that attempted to produce high-end megagames under Imagine Software; the games to emerge from Denton include Gift from the Gods, Shadowfire, and Where Time Stood Still.  Denton Designs would later become part of Rage Software which closed in 2003.  Meanwhile, the path of Psygnosis is quite a bit different.  Ian Hetherington and David Lawson founded developer Finchspeed to take the works of Imagine Software’s Bandersnatch and Psyclapse and combine them into one product: Brataccas.  Psygnosis would be focused more as a publisher, although many of its projects were partially developed in-house.  The company began to develop notoriety when it published Barbarian and Obliterator, demonstrating high-quality graphics and introductory visuals for the time.  The release of Reflections Interactive’s Shadow of the Beast gave the publisher even more acclaim, but it was DMA Design’s Lemmings series which spread the company’s owl-adorned logo worldwide.  Then, in 1993, Sony Electronic Publishing acquired the company, aiming to expand its software platform for its upcoming console, the PlayStation.

As part of Sony Electronic Publishing, Psygnosis produced the PlayStation Development Kit, which helped developers worldwide produce games for Sony’s first gaming platform, and Psygnosis itself would produce a number of well-received franchises onto the PlayStation itself, including G-Police, Colony Wars, and of course, Wipeout.  Despite being part of Sony, the company released the first iterations of Wipeout to many platforms, including Sega Saturn and Nintendo 64, the latter getting its own iteration, Wipeout 64.  From Wipeout 3 onward, however, the games would be Sony-platform-exclusive.  Outside of its Lemming PC games, Psygnosis’ last release outside of Sony would be Take-Two-published Rollcage Stage II, co-developed by ATD (Attention to Detail Limited).

By 1998, Psygnosis would be split up and absorbed into multiple companies as Sony grew into its own publishing powerhouse.  Eidos Interactive bought the European publishing operations, and the American branch was absorbed into 989 Studios.  By 2000, the Liverpool development team would be renamed SCE Studio Liverpool, and other Psygnosis groups would be renamed as well in reorganization.  As Studio Liverpool, the company released 8 iterations in the Formula One franchise (which it took from Studio 33), and during this time, the company also worked on producing more Wipeout titles, including Wipeout Fusion for PS2, Wipeout Pure for PSP, and Wipeout Pulse for both.  When the Formula One license expired, Studio Liverpool was left with only the Wipeout franchise.  In 2008, the company released Wipeout HD, a PSN release which ported Wipeout Pulse tracks to PlayStation 3, and a year later, an expansion Wipeout HD Fury added a number of tracks, modes, and vehicles to the release, to much acclaim.  Despite the acclaim, however, things were changing internally.

In January 2010, Sony announced that it would be cancelling a number of projects inside Studio Liverpool, stating that this would not cause any issues with development at other studios in the North West Studio Group of SCEE.  The first release from Studio Liverpool after this statement would be the PlayStation Vita launch title, Wipeout 2048.

As the publisher, Sony Computer Entertainment began in 1994 as a division of Sony Electronic Publishing.  The company headed the launch of the Sony PlayStation, and in 1997, the company underwent a series of shifts, reestablishing the company as a subsidiary of SCEI.  The company as we see it today, Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios (SCE WWS), oversees the production of video games and other electronic entertainment across the globe.  The releases of Sony as publisher are many, but to name a few, the company has published most of the Crash Bandicoot series, many of the Spyro the Dragon games, the Syphonfilter franchise, Killzone games, and the LittleBigPlanet series.  Alongside Wipeout 2048, Sony launched the PS Vita with Hot Shots Golf: Worldwide Invitational from Clap Hanz, Little Deviants from BigBig Studios, ModNation Racers: Road Trip from San Diego Studio, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss from Sony Bend.

In Wipeout 2048 players experience the thrill and speed of aggressive, antigravity racing in the palm of their hand via the PlayStation Vita. One of the most exciting launch titles releasing concurrently with the PS Vita, Wipeout 2048 retains the frenetically-paced, futuristic racing action and vehicular combat that has thrilled and challenged fans of the series, while also upping the ante by harnesses the PS Vita's enhanced controls. These include motion active tilt, touch interface and even voice-activated commands. Filled with fast-paced, futuristic racing action and wireless connectivity, Wipeout 2048 is a never-ending battle to stay atop the online leaderboards.
-Official PR
Well, from an art standpoint, it obviously gave a new art direction. We’ve based it in a city, which meant we’ve widened the tracks. And what that meant from a gameplay point of view, the tracks became slightly easier than traditional WipEout tracks. And that meant that it changed the focus towards ship-to-ship racing, it made it more combat-focused. So what we did, in order to add an element of strategy to the combat, we split the weapon pads. Traditionally in WipEout you have one weapon pad and you pick up a random weapon, but we’ve split it into offensive or defensive, so that when you get out front you can pick up more defensive weapons, like your shields, or acquire that kind of thing, and when you’re at the back you pick up the more offensive weapons like cannons and missiles to attack the guys in front of you. It actually had a massive rippling effect all the way through the design.
-Mike Humphrey, Senior Designer, Studio Liverpool (PushSquare)

Wipeout 2048 is a futuristic racing game which acts as the prequel to the rest of the Wipeout franchise, covering the first three Anti-Gravity Racing Championships (A.G.R.C.) taking place on 2048, 2049, and 2050.  As anti-gravity racing is in its infancy, there are no dedicated tracks for racing; as a result, the championships use cities as the venues and place tracks within them for racing.  The setting also appears more current than the futuristic tracks that pervade the remainder of the Wipeout franchise.

The game’s single-player campaign follows the three first championships one year after another, displayed in a grid with interconnected events.  In order to progress through the championships, players have to complete the events’ pass targets, although there is also an elite pass to achieve if the players choose to pass that, as well.  As each event is completed, new events emerge from the grid, some leading to the final championship race and others branching off to other goals, such as unlocking other vehicles.  The events vary from the classic races known in the Wipeout franchise to new battle events, where players are given points by attacking opponents along the race track.  The time trial events return, as do the zone events, events in which the vehicle constantly accelerates and must survive by the end of the challenge.  Along the way, players may also encounter prototype ship challenges, allowing players to unlock each of the teams’ prototype ships for racing.

Outside of racing in a single-player campaign, players can enter online multiplayer, which provides them with goals to achieve while racing.  This allows novice players to progress, even if their skill levels do not match against those of opponents.  Furthermore, the game has cross-play capabilities, allowing those with Wipeout HD Fury to play the Fury tracks against those players with Wipeout 2048.  There had been promises of additional DLC, but there has been no concrete announcement on the content itself since the game’s release.

Despite the praise Wipeout 2048 received upon its release, Studio Liverpool would not live to see another game release.  On August 22nd, 2012, Sony announced that it would be closing Studio Liverpool after examining all European studios within the company.  According to rumors from Eurogamer, the company had two major games in development.  One was a new, “dramatically different” Wipeout game to debut at the launch of the PlayStation 4, and the other was a new stealth action title in the vein of the old Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell games, also for PlayStation 4.

Meanwhile, Sony has continued to release software on PlayStation 3 and PS Vita.  The company’s most recent PS Vita release was Japan Studio’s adventure title Gravity Rush, and later this year, Sony will be publishing LittleBitPlanet PS Vita (developed by Double Eleven, Tarsier Studios, and XDev Europe), and PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (developed by SuperBot Entertainment, ported to PS Vita by Bluepoint Games).  As for future PS Vita games to look out for, Media Molecule is developing a new puzzle-platformer, Tearaway, and Marvelous AQL (with Keiji Inafune) is developing a dark action adventure title, Soul Sacrifice.  Both should see 2013 releases on PS Vita.  Meanwhile, Sony is also releasing a new peripheral, the Wonderbook, for the PlayStation 3; its first major product will be Book of Spells, a magic book in the Harry Potter universe.  In the end, this is but a small list of products coming soon from Sony onto its platforms.

It had been months since we received out PS Vita, and we found that it was getting jealous of us not giving it time to appear in an episode of Third Rate Game Play.  Looking at the launch lineup of the system, we found a racing game whose demo had intrigued us, provoking us to examine further.  Wipeout 2048 was that game, and in our first hour of gameplay, we decided to take a look into the game’s first championship and see what the last game from Studio Liverpool has to offer.

It turns out that Wipeout 2048 offers a solid experience, for sure.  The game’s graphics are comparable to consoles of today, and the music matches the fast-paced races with ease.  The user interface is pretty unique, especially with the little effects accompanied by touching the rear touch panel.  I am thankful the game could be played with plain controls without the need to use the touch screen or motion controls, at least in the race.  The biggest concern to hit me was the loading screen.  While it was not unbearable during the recording, having to sit through a screen like that for as long as a minute straight can be hard on the mind, especially in an action-packed racer.  The loading screen aside, I found the controls to be a little loose, but that most likely comes from a person whose last Wipeout experience was more than half a decade ago.

At a now lowered price, Wipeout 2048 is a solid title for the PS Vita library; anyone interested in racing games should take a look at its demo and maybe go for a full run into the championships.

As for the episode itself, well, it could have had more laughs to be sure.  Watching a racing game can be tiring, especially if there is not much activity coming back from those playing.  We were a bit focused on informing the viewers and playing the game directly rather than actually finding things to discuss and entertain.  Oh, there are moments in here, but it is certainly not our best work yet, for sure!

As our first PS Vita recording, it worked out well.  It is a shame that the sharpness of the OLED screen does not translate entirely onto the camera we use, but I assure you, it was a crisp game alright!  Still, the quality of the filming worked out well with the stand and other precautions we took.  We certainly look forward to more PS Vita in the future!

3RM Says: Mmff...okay, so the pick-up is a bit steep...and
now I need some hardcore pain pills.

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