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By default, you have two ships available for every team. One seems to 'outperform' the other on the stats screen. Why would you ever choose the one with lower stats?

When unlocking my first ship, I noticed it isn't any better stats-wise.

Do you simply unlock new skins?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Each of the ships in Wipeout HD is balanced differently. There are some that are clearly inferior (ie, the overall total of their stats is lower than other ships) but they balance that by having best-in-class performance in a certain area. Depending on the track, they might outperform a ship with overall better stats, simply because they focus on an area important to the track.

Your play style (and strengths/weaknesses) factor into this as well. If you're good in a straight shot, but terrible in turns, you may want to pick a ship with better handling, for instance.

This guide lists all of the ships and their respective stats (including the unlockable ships) so that you can determine which one you like best.

The Fury expansion pack unlocked a new set of ships with better stats - these ships are categorically better than their 'standard' variants. There's no reason to use the 'standard' ships if you have the Fury expansion.

Skins are unlocked for completing certain challenges, and they factor into achievements, but there's not much else that they do besides that and showing off your Wipeout HD skills to other players online..

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K, that kind of answers part of the question, but not really the two questions I actually asked. I can only infer that you simply unlock new skins then? I'm still unclear about the choice between the two ships where one ship just has slightly worse stats. This can be used as a handicap feature perhaps? –  Steven Jeuris Nov 26 '11 at 15:51
    
Sorry, I neglected the skins part of your question. I don't remember (and can't find any reference to) two ships per team. Are you unlocking one that is worse stats wise? I edited to add a comment about the skins. –  agent86 Nov 26 '11 at 16:37
    
This video shows the ship selection at 5:40. You can see the red bars on top of the gray stat bars. When going down in the selection, these red bars disappear (although they never seem to do this in the video). Perhaps I am interpreting them wrong? –  Steven Jeuris Nov 26 '11 at 17:51
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Ah, the Fury expansion pack. That's the change. It probably came bundled with your game (esp. if you got it via the Playstation "Welcome Back" package). I've added some details about the Fury ships to the answer. –  agent86 Nov 26 '11 at 18:13
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