Split/Second: Velocity Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios Developer: Black Rock Studios Genre: Racing Players: 1-8
Age Rating: 7+ Other console/handheld formats: PS3
The racing genre is one that doesn’t really have much regular innovation. Most of these games are basically comprised of racing from the start line to the finishing line, although occasionally something does come along that attempts something a little different from the norm. Split/Second: Velocity is one of these games.
The uneducated will believe that Split/Second is a cheeky Burnout knockoff, although there’s a lot more to the game than this. True, the Americanised presentation is similar to that of Criterion’s arcade racer, but past this the game speeds into uncharted territory.
I’ll mention Burnout no more; Split/Second is identifiable by its Power Plays, which can be triggered to damage your opponents’ chances of grabbing the victory. Power Plays are earned by filling up a meter – drafting, drifting, close calls and jumping add juice to it – and then a single button press will unleash spectacular destruction. This destruction comes from portions of the track that are rigged to explode, and, when an icon appears over opponents, the aforementioned button press will cause the exploding, hopefully wreaking enough havoc to make speeding past a wreckage or two a reality. There are two levels of Power Plays (obviously with level two being the most impressive and destructive one), which cause such things as busses rolling across the road, cooling towers collapsing, helicopters dropping explosives, buildings exploding and more. All of these are there to hopefully catch any opponents in their destructive wrath during the moments when they’re triggered.
Power Plays look great and make for a real spectacle; their use even causes a shockwave that can send you careering into a hard object if you’re unable to keep control of your vehicle. It also feels good to turn an opponent’s once pristine car into a wreckage due to a bridge falling on top of it and the like – it makes for some real thrilling moments during races. For those expecting the involvement of skill, however, this is sadly something that Power Plays come without – hitting a button and hoping is not about proficient timing or skill. Because of this, some will see Split/Second as style over substance, and perhaps Black Rock could have factored in more skill into the use of Power Plays. Another issue is that, as you grow more familiar with each track, learning where things are will diminish the chances of you being caught up in the destruction of certain Power Plays over time. I know to avoid the petrol stations for instance, well unless I want the entire thing to explode around me with my poor car left in the middle of it.
Continuing with Power Plays, they can also be used to open up shortcuts and to switch the racing route. I certainly can never remember switching routes on SEGA’s OutRun being so destructive, while opening shortcuts often results in hilarious situations in which the AI opponents attempt to follow you through when the shortcut entrance has just closed behind you. Indeed, as you probably have already realised, the AI is far from exceptional and it even resorts to underhanded cheating tactics in later races.
To come this far without mentioning how the game handles is unjust: I blame it on my enthusiasm for the Power Plays, so please forgive me. As an arcade-style racer, Split/Second has you going around corners in drift-happy mode for much of the time, and whilst it isn’t as intuitive as some similar games, perseverance will see you drifting without it ending in you hitting objects at the side of the track. That just spoils the beautiful visual of a car sliding sideways, after all.
The game is wonderfully presented. The season mode is obviously inspired by American TV shows (Split/Second itself is supposed to be a TV show), with a voice over introducing each new episode (there’s 12 of them) and highlights of some of the things you are going to see within. The structure is simple: you race through events, hoping to place well and you’ll also unlock other events, and eventually the Elite race will open up, in which finishing in the top three will give you automatic qualification for the next batch of races in the next episode.
Split/Second also has various modes. There’s a survival mode in which the aim is to pass as many trucks as possible, although said trucks aren’t just taking over the road like truck drivers do, but explosive barrels are also spilling from the back of them. Obviously, your task is to avoid them, and passing trucks without crashing will be recognised as a chain, earning you more points. There’s a nice twist on time attack, wherein Power Plays are automatically triggered as you strive to set a record time, and then there’s the modes involving a nasty attack helicopter. Air Attack and Air Revenge have you avoiding a barrage of missiles from the helicopter in the former and filling the Power Play meter and deflecting missiles back at the said helicopter in the latter. It’s all good fun for those who enjoy such OTT arcade action.
Moving on to the multiplayer options, and online the game has its issues. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t fault the near perfect network code, but the decision was made to enable players to unlock everything in the game from day one with a simple purchasable download from the Marketplace. This was obviously a mistake as it separates the community, leaving the more dedicated player to work his way through the season mode in order to unlock everything, whilst those who can’t be bothered can simply unlock the lot without lifting a finger. A word of warning: if you’re going to be playing online and you prefer unlocking content for yourself, don’t even think about going into any of the public games until you are well through the season mode as you’ll have other players speeding past in their more powerful motors. Split screen is a feature that is frequently ignored in this new age of online gaming, though Split/Second having it present (for two players) is most welcome. Even better is that it doesn’t feel bolted on: the game remains fast and attractive at all times.
The word attractive is an ideal one, although perhaps that should be placed with words such as stylish and gorgeous – Split/Second is all of these things rolled into one. The game is quite the spectacle, with explosions and debris filling the tracks and not even a hint of slowdown as your motor speeds through the thick of it. I also enjoyed the little touches such as smoke blackening the sides of the screen, and it all combines to make Split/Second a visual masterpiece. Aurally, the original music is the standout portion – dramatic, effective, highly memorable and the perfect accompaniment for such a thrilling game: a game that basically has you living on the knife-edge in each and every race.
Split/Second: Velocity is a visceral and thrilling game, although it has to be said that its unique Power Plays are a rather shallow element and lacking in any real sense of skill, and stupid mistakes have also been made with the online mode. If you’re looking for fast, explosive and casual entertainment, however, Black Rock’s game may very well be the racer for you.