Split/Second: Velocity Preview Xbox 360, PS3

Typical, isn’t it? You wait years for a decent combat/racing hybrid and then two come along within a week of each other. Luckily for us, Blur and Split/Second: Velocity are two very different experiences drawing on a similar theme. Following our visit to Bizarre creations for our Blur preview last week,  we recently headed to Disney Interactive HQ to get to grips with the latest build of Split/Second, a couple of weeks ahead of its European launch.

Split/Second is a racing game from the Burnout school of thought: Super-fast cars that slide around corners with the greatest of ease, stylishly weaving through noisy environments – populated by all manner of devilishly-placed hazards that demand the highest of concentration and the quickest of reflexes. Presented as a new type of televised sport, Split/Second sees drivers race through a city rigged with explosives that are manually triggered to cause devastating and often race-changing destruction. The key to winning is to time your detonations to cause the maximum damage, all the while keeping your racing line and looking for the next best tactical short-cut.

Though each explosion and set piece is limited to a certain area, the skill is in judging when is best to unleash the so-called ‘power-plays’ and when is best to keep them stored. As the power-play gauge builds through performing drifts, drafting in an opponent’s slip-stream, and jumping through the air, the option to use or save power-plays is always playing on your mind. All of a sudden the simple premise of hitting a button to trigger a pre-defined action is given a far more tactical edge, and it’s through learning the tracks, the placement of power-plays, and the abilities of the three types of vehicle (Muscle, Sports and Truck) that Split/Second becomes a game of intense strategy.

As a single player game it’s a fantastically breathtaking experience, with explosions on every corner it’s impossible to avoid a constant grimace as you cling on to the lead, terrified that someone might just manage to catch you off  guard and dump a bulldozer on your head (seriously, this is a thing that can actually happen). As many will have already experienced through playing the demo, getting caught up in a rival’s power-play is the ultimate incentive for revenge. Put a beloved friend in the AI driver’s place, and Split/Second becomes an online battle of one-upmanship as you strive to out-do one another by any means necessary.

In fact up to eight people can play together across the game’s three different online modes; race, elimination and survival. Standard races and elimination races are played across the game’s eleven main courses, with latter being a case of last man standing. Although a lot of racing games have dabbled in elimination-style events, none are quite so unpredictable as Split/Second – being in last place, on the precipice of elimination only to hit a power-play and leave an opponent standing is undeniably satisfying.

Survival mode is a sort of combo-based ‘overtake’ challenge played on a handful of specially designed tracks. Instead of cars, Split/Second has you overtaking lorries that dump explosive barrels from the rear (I dumped an explosive barrel from the rear once, if you know what I mean). Hitting the two types of barrel, red and blue, will wreck your vehicle or slow you down respectively, requiring lightning-fast judgement to navigate the oncoming threats, as well as avoiding a shunting from your fellow competitors. Survival mode builds on the intensity of regular races, with the fun:stress ratio climbing constantly in equal measures, with every devastating wipe-out trumped by every adrenaline-fuelled near-miss.

On top of the superb online multiplayer, Split/Second also comes bundled with split-screen local play, which lets two players and six AI drivers race through the game’s entire collection of locales with hardly any noticeable drawbacks; an impressive feat considering the amount of carnage that is often depicted on-screen. Though it’s likely to take a backseat to the online multiplayer, it’s nice to see Black Rock still catering for the split-screen audience, something that seems to have died off in recent years.

As a package Split/Second is bursting at the seams with neat ideas. From the fully 3D menu interface, to the ‘previously on Split/Second’ announcements each time you return to the game, the level of polish surpasses that which we’ve come to expect from the developer of Pure. Even the achievements and trophies are cleverly worked into the game, with each one becoming a decal that’s applied to whichever of the twenty seven initial cars a player may choose.

Split/Second has been on our radar for some time now, and it’s with great pleasure to announce that following our extensive hands-on it’s still looking to be one of the most exciting video games you’ll play this year; it’s like driving through Terminator 2 via The Fast and the Furious, by way of Con-Air. That’s right, imagine driving through Con–Air. With extra modes like ‘air strike’ and ‘air revenge’ in which you race against a gunship raining missiles on the track – check the video below to see what we mean – and some absolutely awe-inspiring sequences, not to mention potential 3D support which we’ve been assured is a definite possibility, it’ll play right into the hands of anyone who’s ever wanted to drive really fast while blowing stuff up.

Which should be everybody.