The idea of cramming a racing game into a portable seems counter-intuitive; after all, much of the rush of the racing genre comes from this sense of cinema-style immersion. That said, Namco's condensed Wipeout Pure works amazingly well. The PSP screen, although sized for portability, is much bigger than any comparable system, almost defying the notion of "handheld." It can do justice to the beautiful, panoramic fantasy scenery, which is so detailed that it's nearly distracting from the race. Luckily, there's a mode for tourists who just want to cruise around and watch the sun set over a snow-covered peak. The graphics are breathtaking, and the electronica soundtrack is well-done.
When you're done sight-seeing you'll get down to serious business, the core of Wipeout: the racing. The controls are impeccable--the digital control pad is slightly easier than the analog stick, in terms of how the mechanisms are placed on the unit itself; the shoulder buttons are the air brakes. Tap the left or right to brake on the side, and to assist in turning. Tapping both at once will slow you down, and a double-tap left or right will let you shift quickly from side to side--useful in avoiding weapons or other vehicles.
The course is littered with power ups. Some are simple speed boosts while others grant special attack or defense powers. The heat-guided missiles will do your aiming for you, but you'll have to get right behind an opponent to aim the other guns. If you ever pick up power ups you can't use, you can absorb them into your shield energy.
While it's fun enough to try out different vehicle models against the computer, the real delight comes in multiplayer mode, which adds a whole new dynamic to the game. The wireless link-up is definitely key here. It's incredibly easy to set up a multiplayer game--just select that mode, and either host a race or join one. Once everyone who wants to play is in, you can play while facing each other, or sitting side by side--you can even play with people across the room you've never even met. It's a unique blend of online anonymity and face-to-face social interaction, spawning visions of PSP bars and cafes sprouting throughout the urban landscape.
For solo play, check out the Zone--a stripped-down abstracted course of silver and white that's like some dreamscape. Your top speed gets faster and faster with each lap, and your only goal is to survive as long as you can before your shields go down. This is maybe the most blissful experience of Wipeout Pure -- and the purest form of racing.