Flying in the face of Forza Motorsport 3 and Gran Tusismo – both proudly carrying the banner of driving simulators – there’s very little that’s actually realistic in Disney and Black Rock’s latest offering, Split/Second: Velocity.
It’s an arcade racer, pure and simple. There’s no need to change your tyres, tune your engine or worry that your suspension is a little ropey. This is about good old fashioned racing – albeit punctuated with explosions and carnage. The graphics are gorgeous and the screech of the tyres reassuringly accurate but beyond that there’s little to suggest this is a game based on reality.
Quite why the developers think it necessary then to put a disclaimer on the loading screen to ensure gamers don’t attempt to recreate their virtual exploits is beyond me. Or so I thought. Heading out onto the roads in the real world soon after a few Split/Second races left me a very nervous driver, constantly assessing whether other road users were trying to smash me into a wall, if a tower block up ahead was going to crumble on top of me, or a jetliner was going to fall from the skies and leave me in smouldering wreck.
My point is that Split/Second is all about adrenaline. And speed. Oh, and destruction. You can’t help but fall in love with the experience – or the fact that it stays with you even after you’ve put down your controller.
Great to look at and instantly accessible, Split/Second wouldn’t look out of place in an arcade cabinet that eagerly guzzles your countless coinage.
Get yourself comfy, play the first track and you’re immediately grabbed by the speed, graphics and desire to have another go, and another…
The relatively recent addition of Velocity to the game’s title is spot on. No sooner will you start a race, then you’ll be bursting across the finishing line – the previous few minutes little more than a blur. Did a helicopter really just fire rockets at me? And what about that collapsing bridge or the out of control crane? You may have survived the race but have little clue about whether you made the winner’s podium. Either way, you’ll just want to try that track again to improve your time!
Set under the rather elaborate – but tried and tested – guise of a TV show, the developers have been given the freedom to combine complete carnage with a traditional racer, and it proves largely successful. The premise is simple – play through 12 “episodes” of increasing difficulty – each split into races, elimination, survival and bonus rounds. Along the way, you unlock cars, tracks and game modes. The end result is a game that perfectly combines the likes of Burnout Paradise and Flatout: Ultimate Carnage with a Michael Bay film and cartoon classic Dick Dastardly’s Wacky Races!
Although I enjoyed the demo, it almost deterred me from buying the full release. Although I was in awe as the scenery whizzed by, the gorgeous environs punctuated by the occasional explosion and an opponents’ tyre flying past my windshield… after a few playthroughs, I was left wondering whether I’d seen most of what the game had to offer. For those of you who, like me, were wavering on whether to make a purchase or not, I’d suggest you bite the bullet and go ahead. The full version of Split/Second does not disappoint. Granted, it’s not deep or clever, and doesn’t require the player to have exhaustive knowledge of how best to tinker with their car to improve performance. The manual is revealingly slim. Instructions should read: insert disc, hold down accelerate and press the powerplay button to eliminate opponents.
All information, including position, lap and the aforementioned powerplay indicator, is depicted in a neat little HUD behind the car, freeing the screen from un-necessary clutter. By drifting round corners, drafting behind other cars, jumping or by narrowly avoiding an explosion, the powerplay gauge increases in stages until you can release merry hell on the track and your competitors.
See a rival up ahead? Why not trigger an explosion at the side of the track and send a flaming bus into his vehicle? The range and scale of the devastation is unsurpassed and strategic detonations plays just as much importance as negotiating the multitude of twists and turns during a race. Save up your powerplays and an uber-powerful explosion will quickly become available, providing the option to manipulate the entire track and open up a new route. Careful however, mistiming this could lead to your untimely demise.
If, like me, you’re largely incompetent at racing games, Split/Second is a breath of fresh air because it’s extremely forgiving, even on the harder races later in the game. The fact that you can still catch the frontrunners when playing online by way of a few well-times blasts should also stop the ragequits ruining the proceedings.
The game does have its flaws. Not being able to trigger an explosion behind you when you’re in the lead is a common source of frustration; clawing your way to the front of the pack often leaves you an open target and susceptible to some unscrupulous rival. The best way I found is not to take the lead until the last minute, and simply decelerate occasionally so you can linger behind another car to benefit from its slipstream before surging past.
Another issue is the drifting. It’s an important method of boosting your powerplay gauge that has an unfortunate habit of slowing the car considerably. As a result, it’s often far easier to go full pelt around a corner and smash into a barrier as it’s far less detrimental to your overall speed. This perhaps should have been tweaked before release – it’s far easier just to “draft” behind other cars to raise your power meter.
The only other grievance – besides the slightly easy difficulty settings – is the rubber band AI, which handily groups cars together. Although this maximises the benefits of the powerplays, it all too often sees you overtaken just as you are about to grab the winner’s medal.
And what of longevity? The tracks are many and varied – all with their own aesthetic and hidden hazards. During the course of the campaign you’ll race across airport runways, city centres, dockyards and canyons to name but a few.
However, after a few hours play the explosions and devastation are old news, the cars appear extremely limited, the handling is sluggish, the AI increasingly frustrating and the tracks are all too familiar. But there’s something there that just keeps you coming back for more. When you’re done with the season mode and have dodged all the explosive barrel-spewing lorries and rocket-launching helicopters, the split screen and multiplayer options provide a nice tonic.
If you’re after a fun racer that you can dip in and out of, then Split/Second is for you. Overall, it’s highly recommended.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
Fast and furious. Great to look at. Differs from the countless other racers out there
Does get repetitive. Difficulty is questionable, and AI sorely lacking
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