Split/Second: Velocity 360, PS3, PC
Starting up Split/Second is a bit like taking a wonderful stroll down memory lane, back to a simpler time when racing games were about sliding around corners to impress your girlfriend, or driving as fast as possible through traffic without smashing yourself into next Wednesday. As they demonstrated with Pure, developers Black Rock know exactly how to tap into the core of the gamer-gene; in this case, taking a load of sexy sports cars, sticking them in some of the most beautiful environments to date, and making them speed around at maximum velocity. Oh, and have everything blow up.
Split/Second’s fictional city is an urban paradise, built from the ground up for a new type of reality TV show. Each of the eleven or so intertwining courses are littered with an abundance of hazards, traps and things that go boom. Build up your so-called power-play gauge by drifting, jumping and drafting behind opponents and you’ll soon be able to use the rigged track to your advantage, taking out rivals with all manner of incredible explosions. Build the gauge up to the maximum level and huge areas of the track can be destroyed, taking out multiple drivers and creating a whole new route on which to race.
Condensing it into a single paragraph doesn’t really do it any justice. The power-plays in Split/Second are like nothing you’ll have experienced in any other game, let alone a racing game. Black Rock have treated Split/Second like a homage to the most exciting driving sequences from the greatest action blockbusters, with every set piece giving a little nod to all the Hollywood greats. More than that, they’ve taken these influences and they’ve pushed them to an entirely new level. From sliding beneath a collapsing extension bridge, to leaping from a destroyed ferry to the deck of an aircraft carrier, each new race-changing power-play seems to top the last, eventually building in an awesome crescendo of mayhem and destruction.
But as thrilling as each of the power-plays are, it’s the way in which they’re used that make Split/Second brilliant. Power-plays both large and small can only be triggered for opponents in front of you, so holding back and timing each one (which are in set positions throughout the track) will mean the difference between taking out a single rival, and obliterating the lot of them. It also throws up the dilemma of whether you should keep building the power-play gauge for a bigger impact, or simply spaff all your level 1 attacks as quickly as possible. The mechanic changes further as you pull into first place, becoming a frantic game of ‘dodge everything’ as your pursuers attempt to make your life a living hell.
Despite the initial impression that Split/Second would be all style and no substance, there’s a great deal of depth beneath its highly-polished surface. The thirty or so cars that are unlocked through the season each have varying stats which completely change the way you race. Trucks are slow but rarely get thrown out by explosions or the aftershock of certain power-plays. Tuners go super-fast but are prone to crashing, and muscle cars drift like crazy, but lack acceleration. The key to winning each event in Split/Second is identifying which type of car is built for the cause, as choosing wrongly will often lead to failure. I say ‘each event’ because alongside the standard race and elimination challenges that you’ll find in most racers, Split/Second features a handful of other race modes that just wouldn’t work elsewhere.
‘Detonator’ is a solo one-lap run against the clock with the entirety of the course’s power-plays all detonating on your approach. The result is an absolute spectacle of chaos, as you speed through an onslaught of fire and debris. ‘Survival’ is a continuous loop in which you overtake articulated lorries that dump explosive barrels to slow you down, requiring speed and agility to smoothly weave between the rapidly spawning obstacles. The most interesting are Air Strike and Air Revenge, solo challenges in which you race around the rack avoiding missiles from an attack helicopter, and build up power-plays in the latter to get your… well, revenge.
Each one provides just enough change to the general concept to keep the game feeling fresh, requiring a shift in strategy and technique depending on the mode. They also highlight the importance of each vehicle type, as often the cars used for race and elimination will be prove to be pretty useless at sharply dodging missiles and barrels. They also focus even more on the arcade aspect, introducing multiplier combos for flawless driving, which can be bettered over and over again in quick-play.
It would be unfair to demand a decent online multiplayer mode from a game that already offers so much in terms of a single player experience, but Split/Second does it regardless. Up to eight players can compete in either race, elimination or survival matches earning credits to unlock new cars as they win more races. The one downfall is that the online car selection is limited to vehicles unlocked in the single player season (meaning idiots who purchase the ‘unlock all’ DLC will have the advantage) but providing you go online post-completion, the multiplayer boasts some of the most exhilarating races the game has to offer.
It’s very difficult to find fault with Split/Second. Though initially it tends to be a bit on the easy side and learning when and where to use which power-plays is a case of trial and error, it’s not long before the game escalates into a nail-bitingly intense experience. Its presentation as a high-octane American TV show adds a great deal of charm to the formula, with special mention for the announcer who appears to be channelling a cross between Duff Man and Sheriff John Bunnell. Amongst an industry hell-bent on providing ‘gritty realism’, Split/Second is a welcome break from reality.
Finally, the racing game is fun again.