Yes, the game runs at a silky smooth 60fps. Yes, the texture work is fantastic. However, the technical achievements shouldn't overlook the game's great sense of style. While many of these tracks will familiar to PSP owners, they come to life with a brand new level of detail that the handheld simply couldn't pull off. There are all sorts of visual treats scattered across the tracks, and in your ship's HUD as well. The newly redesigned HUD is more dynamic than ever, distorting from nearby attacks, shaking during collisions, etc. Entering first-person mode will increase the sensation of really being in a supersonic vehicle even further.
One mode we're particularly impressed with this time around is the newly revamped HD Zone mode. Zone was one of the best modes from the PSP games, and this time it's back with a few enhancements. While Pure featured high-contrast tracks, Pulse added a bit more color to make it more visually appealing. HD takes it a step further with music synchronized textures on the tracks themselves. The music you're listening to will dynamically change the look of the track as you race along it, and as your ship gets progressively faster with each zone you enter, the color scheme of the entire world may suddenly morph all around you. It's stunning and absolutely must be experienced. Speed freaks will be glad to hear that speeds in Zone now reach "Zen," a level far beyond the Phantom levels offered in previous games.
Progression through the single player campaign should be familiar to anyone who's played WipEout Pulse. Once again, the "Grid" mode returns, with players able to select various race types to progress forward. Each trial that's completed unlocks adjacent ones, and when the player gets an adequate number of points (from earning medals), they'll move onto another grid. Each grid will give players access to new levels.
The loyalty system found in Pulse also returns, to encourage players to use the same ships. Each race, regardless of winning or losing, will give the player experience points for that ship. Over time, new skins and other bonuses can be unlocked for the ships. There's also a Photo Mode, which allows you to take pictures from the game and save them to your PS3 hard drive to share.
For vets of the franchise that have played the PSP games, none of this comes as surprising. However, even the most seasoned racers will have to get used to the adjusted controls offered by the PS3 controller. Once again, both the D-Pad and analog stick can be used to manuver the vehicle. The ships slither along the tracks a bit more easily, although turning has become much more tightened since previous iterations -- don't overuse the shoulder buttons, as they are incredibly effective in HD. We're glad to see that in our races, many of the new weapons found in Pulse have returned, and the ability to do a 360 degree mid-air turn for a boost bonus is easier than ever to perform.
While much of the content should be familiar for fans, everything still feels brand new thanks to the magnificent engine the guys at Liverpool have created for the game. Don't think of this as a stopgap until a "real" WipEout game -- this really is the real deal. Once again, the PSN has upped the ante for the kind of content you can find through digital distribution. If this preview has got you antsy for more, worry not -- details on WipEout HD's new release date (and price!) are coming soon.