Rush hour

PS Vita’s launch line-up is crammed full of quality, yet WipEout 2048 looks to rocket past many of its competitors right out of the gate. Set before the other games in the franchise, 2048 takes fans back to the start of the anti-gravity racing league and gives SCE Studio Liverpool ample opportunity to experiment with its high-speed baby.

WipEout 2048 is the very beginning of the sport, before it’s caught on and become such a big deal. As such many of the tracks are not nearly as abstract, instead built on top of and around the existing infrastructures of a future New York rather than being their own entirely separated complex entities. The multiple routes twist around or over skyscrapers and wind through parks, the combination of more recognisable surroundings and futuristic race tracks melding together brilliantly in well-designed tracks that encourage players to keep their foot on the accelerator at all times.

Despite the slight shift towards normality, 2048 has not slowed down a single mile per hour. It’s still the insanely fast racer known and loved, and could even get more hectic than ever thanks to a renewed focus on mid-drive combat. As the teams battle to establish dominance in the new sport they’re aided by an abundance of weapon pads strewn over the newly widened tracks. Now split into offensive and defensive categories, it’s up to individuals to decide whether they want another turbo boost or would rather stock up on vehicle-shattering missiles.

Don't look down

Many of Vita’s headline functions are being put to work in WipEout 2048, not least the motion sensors and numerous touch surfaces. Tilting the system steers crafts accurately and steadily, with the shoulder buttons’ air brakes helping to smooth out those corners. The rear touch-pad administers acceleration, while weapons and items are activated or absorbed with the touch screen. Traditional stick-and-buttons controls are still present to console anybody not ready to perfect their Lewis Hamilton impressions on the bus to work, though.

Near also plays a role in WipEout 2048’s not-so-distant future, allowing challenges to be dropped and picked up by anyone close-by; photos of the jubilant victors or the dejected losers are exchanged between players after races for maximum effect. Augmented Reality nuggets are promised, but none were shown in the demonstration.

That’s all without mentioning cross-platform play, a jewel in 2048’s crown that Studio Liverpool is clearly proud of. As well as arriving with its own campaign, WipEout 2048 also includes all levels from PlayStation 3’s WipEout HD. From the outset these tracks can be raced on against other Vita users and the existing PlayStation 3 community, using the same network and lobbies. Eight players, with any mix of PlayStation 3 and PS Vita systems, can play at once together as if gaming on the same type of device.

Crosstown traffic

It’s all made possible by Vita’s incredible performance, which means that near-identical assets are used across both PlayStation 3 and the new handheld. Matched with the system’s bright OLED screen and the detailed art style of WipEout, the result is a visual feast; there’s so much to look at while blistering around the courses that it can be a task in itself to keep eyes to the road. Expect more than a few collisions on first play as the surroundings are taken in.

Series prequel WipEout 2048 is an early contender for PS Vita’s first killer app. SCE Studio Liverpool has pulled together something incredible that will have those thruster fingers constantly twitching for more based on the demo version. Fear for your non-digital social lives and prepare for heightened senses when the full version arrives on launch day.