Once upon a time Wipeout was the epitome of cool gaming; its pounding techno soundtrack the stuff of DJs and its gravity-defying craft and race tracks were like someone had given F-Zero a shot in the arm and some glow sticks. However, after a flat entry on the PS2 with Wipeout Fusion the series lost its way a little, and despite two hugely enjoyable entries on the PSP (which felt like an ideal platform for such a franchise) it had fallen from the limelight into relative cult status.
Wipeout HD changed all that. Despite being a download-only retread of the two PSP instalments, it offered arguably the best iteration of the series to date with incredible 1080p, 60fps visuals, fantastic online play and outstanding value for money. As if this wasn't enough, ten months later Sony Liverpool then released the Fury DLC; a remix changing the whole style and front-end of WHD whilst bringing along an extra handful of tunes, tracks and vehicles. Now they have also released the game on disc, finally bringing the complete package together for all to enjoy, and there really is now no excuse for PS3 owners to not have this game.
Contrary to WHD's ice-cool and underplayed menu screen, Fury greets the player with a pumping bass-heavy score and a moody red background. Going into the game, it's clear the faultless gameplay has remained wholesale; at the slower speed levels craft can be steered with relative disregard for most corners and obstacles, but take things progressively faster and even gentle turns become potential death traps. The ships themselves exibit gentle, almost floaty steering, meaning courses must be learned and air brakes must be mastered in order to attain the best times and scrape through the hotly-contested championships.
There's a fearsome amount of content here for a game which costs barely £20. WHD and Fury have their own championships and each is set up on a theme of eight tiers of increasing difficulty. Challenges therein usually entail beating a lap time or simply racing against eleven opponents, with sporadic use of the more exotic types such as Zone and Elimination. The structure of the championships is very well designed, with multiple challenges always open to the player at once, and subsequent tiers become unlocked without perfect mastery of the previous. It's a fine balance which never forces the gamer in to a corner and always allows for progression choice.
The sixteen standard tracks are varied, with a mixture of floating airbourne platforms, twisting gravity-defying loops and busy industrial regions. Much of the focus is on offensive and defensive collectibles, which is implemented in a similar fashion to Mario Kart; those at the back of the field will revel in the better pick ups such as the scenery-smashing Quake, while those at the front will get the lower-calibre collectibles such as Rockets or Shield. Collectibles can also be absorbed rather than used, giving the ship a vital little energy boost - which comes in essential as there are no more recharge lanes as seen in the earlier series entries.
From an audiovisual perspective, Wipeout HD Fury is incredible - even if it were a full-price release it would still be striking. The visuals are stupendously detailed, with amazing textures, fantastic and busy trackside detail and a flawless frame rate. There are tons of different craft designs, up to twelve vehicles are on track at any one time and it is full of gorgeous incidental details like heat haze and motion blur. The audio is almost as good as the visuals; besides licenced tracks from the likes of Noisia and Kraftwerk, vehicles have their own iconic sounds and the computerised female voice efficiently announces when a nearby enemy receives a mines pick up, for example, or when the last lap begins.
The game comes with a huge amount of online content, including single races, tournaments and now Zone Battle. Connecting online is quick and painless, and setting up a tournament is simple, as is choosing a host to join to from a list of online games. Online racing maintains a flawless 60fps and the game thankfully transfers to a new host should the current host quit. At the time of writing there's always a fair number of people racing online at any time of day, and setting up new games will see a lobby filled within minutes. A word of warning perhaps is that there is a lot of gamers online who are seriously skilled, and races don't tend to be very fun when losing two second a lap against someone ranked about ten places higher. Luckily the invite system is simple and painless, and the game is far more enjoyable when playing against friends of similar skill level.
The Wipeout series has fallen somewhat from favour in the last few years - perhaps indicated by WHD's initial download-only status - but with its disc release and Fury expansion the series has firmly re-established itself at the pinnacle of both the arcade racer genre and the futuristic racer genre. Wipeout HD alone is a superb game, but when paired with its Fury expansion it becomes a near perfect package. For a bargain price this is ridiculously essential which represents possibly the greatest bargain to be found on the PS3.