Photo: From the Wipeout Omega Collection VR Trailer (www.vrfocus.com)

Originally released in June 2017 for Playstation 4, Wipeout Omega Collection is a compilation of two previous Wipeout games for PSVita and PS3 and an expansion for the latter. Wipeout, for those of you who don’t know, is a futuristic arcade-like racing game with anti-gravity cars flying at top speed around fiendish tracks while shooting each other with powerful weapons. There are fans of the series who are probably confused why I felt the need to explain this, but the thing is I hadn’t cared about the series at all let alone played a single minute of it until last week. Nobody I know has ever played the series. When I mentioned it to one friend, he assumed it was a jet ski racing game. Given the series’ original studio, Sony Studio Liverpool’s closure back in 2012 presumably due to declining sales in the series, I imagine a lot of people were probably in the same boat I was in.

In December of 2017, Sony announced they’d be patching Wipeout Omega Collection to add Playstation VR support, but no concrete date for release was announced. Given my thirst for fuller VR games, I was immediately intrigued, but promptly forgot about the announcement due to other upcoming games.

The free update released about two weeks ago and immediately began getting rave reviews within the VR community: rave enough that I immediately decided to snatch up a copy of the Omega Collection from Gamestop while it was on sale for $23 to see what the excitement was about.

It turns out the excitement was well worth it. This is the full Wipeout Omega Collection in VR with almost no compromises. Every track, every mode, and almost every feature is available in VR: the only exception is that your car selection is slightly limited due to the game requiring special VR only ships with better sightlines of the track for you to race in. It’s a minor but necessary change.

Image: From the Wipeout Omega Collection VR Trailer (vrplayer.fr)

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What’s remarkable about this is we’re used to seeing compromises in VR titles all of the time due to control scheme and processing limitations. Skyrim VR, while still a fine experience, suffers from sub-par graphics and frustrating-to-navigate menus when dealing with Playstation Move controllers and is missing mod support on Playstation. Driveclub VR dropped the quality of environments to somewhere between PS2 and PS3 levels to get operating correctly and the game seems to be rendering at an even lower resolution than the headset’s 1080p screen resulting in extremely blurry graphics. Everything is slightly blurrier in 1080p VR simply because the resolution isn’t great when the screen is that close to your face, but Driveclub was especially egregious. It’s become a fact of life that VR means limitations.

Wipeout shatters that notion by presenting far more detailed environments with better lighting than either of those games while supersampling graphics. Even on the original PS4, the game is actually rendering at above 1500p and is downscaling to the headset resulting in one of the clearest experiences to date. Granted, this is a remaster of a Vita and a PS3 game and it’s a racing game so there’s less collision geometry, but it still results in a game that is significantly more appealing to look at that an overwhelming majority of PSVR games including other racing games.

Of course, none of this matters if the game doesn’t play well, but boy does it play well. You might expect playing an extremely high speed racing game from the first person in VR would be first of all vomit inducing and second of all extremely difficult, but you’d be wrong. Granted, I generally have my “VR Legs” (a term for overcoming the sickness brought on by visuals implying motion in VR while you’re stationary in real life derived from “sea legs”) so your mileage may vary, but my stomach didn’t budge a bit while playing the game with all comfort settings disabled. For those still getting their VR Legs, the game does offer various ways to lessen the nausea such as blinders and settings to reduce cockpit movement relative to the track.

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As for difficulty, if anything, I’ve found that VR actually makes the game easier, at least for me for a couple of reasons. First, since your head is effectively your camera, you can look ahead on turns and in loops much like you would when turning in a car. To illustrate this, here’s a race I did a couple of days after getting the game on one of the game’s more gravity defying tracks, Wipeout HD’s Moa Therma taken on the highest speed at the highest difficulty. Something important to note is with my camera setting (camera locked to pilot), the cockpit remains perfectly stationary. In other words, if I were to look completely forward the whole race, the cockpit would not move in my vision, so any movement you see of the cockpit comes from my head movements outside of quick jitters when hitting a wall or weapons.

My own race on Moa Therma, with Phantom Class speed and Elite difficulty AI

What you most notice with that in mind is that each time I take the giant loop, VR allows me to look straight up and look out for any upcoming bombs and booster pads. On turns, I can look ahead towards booster pads before my ship has even begun the actual turn. It all makes it much more engaging to play and easier.

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Screenshot: The craft is pointed forward, but my head is preparing for the next turn. (Squadaloo)

Second and even more importantly, since you are inside your ship, any bit of movement of your craft triggers an immediately noticeable response allowing for faster reaction time. My first time playing the game, I played through the first few campaign missions of Wipeout 2048 in VR mode. I went back in non-VR afterwards. In spite of me knowing the tracks the second time around, I actually performed significantly worse in non-VR as the controls felt sluggish to me. The truth is the controls are the same: pressing all of the inputs at all of the same times in both VR and non-VR will result in the same performance, but because the camera in regular mode doesn’t immediately react to input the same way your view inside the cockpit does in VR, I found myself frequently starting turns too late and drifting towards the outside wall. Being in VR gave me a much quicker sense of exactly how my craft handles, and as a result gotten me addicted to the game quicker. As someone who has never given this series a first thought let alone a second one, VR has given me an excellent way to appreciate just how good it is.

It’s hard to believe this is a VR patch for an existing game. The nature of Wipeout lends itself perfectly to a VR experience. The exhaust coming from the ships in front of you is amazing to see in 3D, the 3D audio helps you hear the roar of an opponent’s engine as they attempt to pass you, weapons go whizzing past your head: it all perfectly fits into a neat VR experience. Even the menus receive an overhaul with cars roaring past your head in slow motion. It’s unbelievable that it all comes in a free patch to an existing game.

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Screenshot: Screenshot by the Sixth Axis (tsa)

And there’s the game’s biggest problem: it all comes in a free patch to an existing game.

With a brand new game, you get a marketing push in the leadup to release followed by reviews on various websites, news articles, player buzz, and more. It’s been almost a year since Wipeout Omega Collection hit stores, and its marketing is long gone. There will only be new reviews hitting VR focused websites that now have a reason to review the game. VR focused communities have embraced the game with open arms and high praise, but they’re relatively small in comparison to the gaming world at large.

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Perhaps even more strangely, the patch basically released with little to no warning. The developers teased it was coming very soon, and then the next week it was out. The Playstation blog and YouTube channels posted a brief write-up and video, and a few mainstream websites basically wrote a quick blurb acknowledging the update was out with relatively few actually having impressions. We have a long running cult classic series making a jump to VR with no compromises, a full experience in a market lacking in them, and it gets dumped unceremoniously in our laps.

As much as I love that this was a free patch for an existing game, I almost wish it was paid DLC. First of all, it would give more money to the team at XDev who helped make this happen. They more than deserve it for the work put into this. More importantly, however, making it DLC rather than a patch would have given regular gaming reviewers more of a reason to give it a serious look and write up reviews rather than basically repeating Sony’s announcement blog.

This is an experience that deserves all of the attention it can get. It’s one of the most polished, most intense, and most importantly most fun games I’ve played this year VR or not. I also think it’s a game that would be strongly positioned to raise interest in people who don’t have VR: watching a fast race with fast cars, loops, and weapons flying all in first person just looks frantic and exciting unlike many other VR experiences. I don’t want to say it’s a “killer app” for PSVR as it’s a phrase repeated often enough that it’s lost all meaning, but it makes one of the strongest cases for the headset yet.

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I may not have really known a whole lot about Wipeout prior to playing Omega Collection, but thanks to VR, I’m having a blast with it now.