Gameplay is largely similar to that of previous Wipeout titles. The player pilots an anti-gravity craft, selected from one of several teams and, depending on the game mode, competes using speed and weaponry in an attempt to beat the competition.
There are five main race types in Wipeout HD: Single Race, Tournament, Speed Lap, Time Trial, and Zone mode. Single Race is a straight-forward start-to-finish race against seven other competitors, while Tournament is a series of consecutive races won by having the highest aggregate score. In the Speed Lap and Time Trial modes, the player races alone in an attempt to beat the clock. Finally, the unique Zone mode, first introduced in Wipeout Fusion, automates the player's acceleration control, progressively moving the craft at higher speeds. As the player's craft automatically passes through higher "zones", or categories of speed, the player must continue to navigate the course until their energy runs out and the ship explodes. The audio/visual atmosphere during Zone mode differs greatly from regular play. The environments are stripped of texture and are replaced by simple colour palettes that change as the player reaches new zones. Graphic equalizers appear on the race course and in the surrounding scenery, displaying waveforms for the currently playing audio track.
Each race type can be found in the single-player Campaign mode, which is a series of 87 different race scenarios. As the player progresses from easier events to harder ones, tracks and teams are unlocked for use in the separate Racebox mode, in which players can play one-off arcade-style races, either in single-player or two player split-screen modes. Whereas gameplay settings in Campaign mode are predetermined, they are completely customizable to the player in Racebox mode.
In addition to offline play, Wipeout HD offers an eight-player online mode. A lobby system allows players to search for and join either Single Races or Tournament races. Should a player's ship explode in an online race, the player's craft will reappear on the track moments later (as opposed to forcing the player to drop out of the race as in offline play). Voice chat is also supported.
A new introduction to the series is the Pilot Assist feature. Intended for players who are new to the series, it is a passive auto-piloting feature that assists players by nudging them away from the edges of the track or from the walls, though its effects at higher speed settings are less desirable. Wipeout HD allows players to control their craft by using the motion-sensitive features of the Sixaxis controller. Motion control comes in two variants; pitch and steering, or pitch only. The former allows the craft to be totally controlled by moving the controller, while the latter only allows the nose of the craft to be raised or lowered by motion control with the steering either controlled by analog stick or D-pad.
Also, carried on from Wipeout Pulse, is Photo Mode, which allows the player to take screenshots of the game and save them to the PlayStation 3 hard drive as full 1920x1080 resolution images. These photos can be manipulated before being saved, with editing functions for exposure, saturation, lens focus, depth of field and motion blur parameters. Accessed under the Photo folder in the XrossMediaBar, these images can then be transferred to PC, used as wallpaper, sent to friends, and so on.
Wipeout HD features 38 Trophies, which range from the simple – such as merely using the Photo Mode – to the difficult, such as reaching the high-speed Zone 75 in Zone Mode. Twelve of the trophies are hidden, with no description on how to obtain them visible to the player, while the final of the thirty-eight trophies is a Platinum Trophy entitled "Transcendence", obtained when all other trophies have been collected (excluding additional content trophies).