Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Black Rock Studio
Released: 21st May 2010
Other Formats: Xbox 360, PC, iPhone
Like a Michael Bay production with added vehicular destruction, or a pyrotechnics wet dream, Split/Second:Velocity pulls no punches in following the crowd with simple arcade racing fare. Instead, the race for the chequered (yet slightly singed) flag will come from negotiating your way around the fully destructible tracks on offer, where towers crumble to the floor in an explosive heap of concrete, where aircraft land precariously over the race track and whole raceways fall under the weight of revving engines. This is something barely witnessed before. Sure, games have messed with destruction in the racing genre (Motorstorm: Pacific Rift comes to mind specifically), but rarely has a game's core concept been driven around such a gimmick.
And don't let the word 'gimmick' put you off either, for Split/Second's reality TV show destruction package is as near you'll get for some time to a racer so action packed and utterly enjoyable as this. Similar in style to Criterion's excellent racer Burnout 3: Takedown but with added 'oomph', shall we say, SS's premise is made possible through each driver's use of the so-called “powerplay” action moves that enable triggered and pre-scripted explosions on-track to blast their way into the game's racing carnage with aplomb- a mixture of extraordinary graphical fidelity (some of the best explosions ever witnessed) to brilliant audio cues (a lull of silence before a huge eruption resounds from speakers)- in filling up the “powerplay meter”.
Split into three sections, the meter slowly fills through drifting, drafting and jumping and, depending on how much is filled, will also allow you to trigger one of two powerplay events. Whilst the first two sections allow for small explosions (I say small, I mean 'small' compared to others!) and the ability to open short cuts, the latter section can devastate opponents' plans for first in enormous and hugely impressive moments in which you'll (figuratively speaking, of course) literally have to pick your jaw up from the floor. Not only can such events crush opponent's into mere folds of scraping metal, the track can also progressively change depending on which event was triggered. One such example on the 'Airport' level sees a tower crashing down onto the previously untouched asphalt, only to open a huge expanse of open runway (in which the aforementioned jumbo jet will no doubt crash land onto your shiny, glittering body work that is showcased beautifully with Split/Second's gorgeous visuals- Black Rock also cleverly incorporating the HUD (containing the meter, position etc.) under the rear bumper of the car. Such design choices are minute and yet extremely beneficial where such elements would otherwise obscure the blinding thrills, something so simple but an idea which I'm sure other developers will likely use in following games.
Moving on to Velocity's arcade racing, and again, Black Rock have delivered in abundance. Vehicles are marked out in favour of drifting, speed, strength and acceleration levels, although of all vehicles that I managed to try out, all felt remarkably weighty and pleasant to drive. You'll no doubt find an ideal motor that suits your style of play and the embellished game mode, with speed sacrificed for stability (vital for powerful explosions and the 'Survival' mode- where a truck drops explosive barrels in front), stability sacrificed for speed (more useful for races and 'Devastator'- a take on time trial where explosive events trigger automatically). The latter mode being the most useful in seeing all that each track has to offer, with the excellent 'Airport' a stepping stone on the way to the tricky and awesome, fiery and hazardous charge of 'Airplane Graveyard' where no jet engine is stable. Progressing through the season mode within the game is expertly handled, in which points are awarded based on your finishing position, thus contributing to a 'episode' finale showdown with the fastest drivers to qualify for the superseding episode (a total of 12). In paying attention to the lull that can be a staple of the racing genre, Black Rock consistently vary game types throughout and keep things rolling at a fair old rate. No event is too long and neither are two ever the same, with a number of events; 'Race', 'Devastator', 'Survival', 'Air Strike' and 'Air Revenge' all contributing to the persistent, dependable, unabashed and unshakeable revolve of action sequences. And although others can complain that the game suffers after the initial exhilaration phase of seeing powerplays for the first time, I can conclude the exact opposite. Yes, the first time around a track is a delight, but in learning each track corner by corner, play by play, can the game only really come alive. It's where the game turns from gimmick into a true arcade racer, where skill is as important as tactics.
There seem to be only a few minor faults that resonant to me about the game. I can't help but be wary of first position- not only does Split/Second ultimately punish those in first with the inability to use powerplays at all (only short cuts can be activated), meaning action at the front of the pack is often the more dull, strange considering the 'racing' aspect of the game. I'd like to have seen some way in which opponent's can still be, maybe indirectly even, given a harder route to your rear bumper (rubber banding accounting for such instances), perhaps incorporating the excellent slow-mo replays to what is happening elsewhere as a result of your actions. Also particularly noticeable in multiplayer was the way in which first place, if not stopped early on, can ultimately win the race with opponent's almost helpless in pursuing since powerplays are limited to what the player can see and only those directly in front. I'd also have loved to see a similar mechanic to Criterion's Takedown in which opponent's can be pushed into obstacles and the like to result in a “wreck” (in addition to the destructive powerplays), which could have added another dynamic to the play and going on to improve the arcade feeling of the game as a whole.
Featuring two player split screen multiplayer, as well as rousing online play, a full career mode and quick play, Split/Second is a joy to play. In concentrating on the explosive set pieces, Black Rock have engorged us on an arcade racer that deserves its place alongside the greats of Burnout and Outrun. Guaranteeing enormous re playability and a whole load of throwaway fun, this is a racer worthy of your time.
Take a look at my preview of Split/Second here.