Split Second: Velocity Review 1/09/2010

It only has one trick up its sleeve, but it’s a very good one.

Black Rock Studios, the developers of Split Second: Velocity, are of course no strangers to arcade racers, having frequently dabbled in the Need for Speed franchise and other such racers. But Split Second seemed to come out of nowhere into a market filled with racing giants such as the aforementioned “Need for Speed”, but also including the mental but mighty “Motostorm”, the legendary “Burnout” and another new rival, the much critically acclaimed, “Blur”. So surely Split Second has to do or be something special to be noticed in this crowd? The game is an arcade racer based around the concept of a reality TV show, where racers drive for money and victory, by racing fast and, more interestingly, taking out their opponents. It’s the way in which you take out your opponents that is what’s interesting here as all tracks are almost completely fully destructible. You must destroy bridges, rip apart roads, drop bombs, crash planes, shoot missiles and generally blow up everything around the course to take out your opponents, as you will never win by speed alone.

What’s good?

Luckily the whole concept the game is based on is its most impressive feature, which is the “power play’s”. As you drive around the very simple tracks you will build up your power play bar, which is in three sections and when maxed out (fill up all 3), you can trigger a super power play. You build this up by power sliding, drafting (driving directly behind your opponent), jumping or marginally avoiding disaster. The power play bars don’t take long to build up but when they do get ready to watch everything explode. You don’t shoot anything specifically yourself, missiles or guns etc, but instead you set off explosives around the environment the tracks are based in an attempt to cause road side explosions that may cause your opponents to crash, or even better demolish buildings and cause other such vast things to come crumbling down onto your opponents taking all them out at once. Small blue symbols appear above your opponent’s vehicles when they are in the potential firing line and then you must time your strike well. Now, this can range from blowing up a taxi at the side of the road, which uses one power play bar, to blowing up a train bridge, that crashes down onto the race track launching a huge speeding locomotive off the rails and come crashing down onto the race track crushing all cars that happen to be in the blast radius. The taxi explosion is a normal power play but the destruction of a bridge is a super power play, that uses all three of your power play bars. What really summed it up for me was in only my second race, and thus far had only really seen exploding cars and barrels, I triggered a super power play. In the background a huge skyscraper was suddenly lit up with explosions, like a controlled demolition, and it slowly came thundering down onto the track, the very top of which landed inches from my front bumper, and it caved in the entire road, crushing all opponents ahead of me and completely altered the track as my car flew down into the subway system and a whole new set of corners was opened up to the race track. It was so spectacular and unexpected my jaw never got off the floor for the rest of that race. The falling buildings are quite spectacular, but the game doesn’t end it there, as it will hurl enormous freighter air craft at you the size of Jumbo’s, that come crashing down onto the track in front of you in a biblically huge fire ball, ignite entire power stations, tip over ocean liners in a dry dock, bring down huge suspension bridges and cause city destroying landslides. It is stupendously ridiculous! The super power plays are not as common but they are unbelievably spectacular and entertaining, and even the smaller normal power play’s rarely feel tame, as igniting a petrol tanker at the side of the road so that it blows an opponent completely off the track and into the air, is still a hugely satisfying experience. I’m not sure how original the concept of blowing up parts of the track in a race is, but I have certainly not seen it before, and even if you have, the execution of it in Split Second is absolutely epic and will appeal to anyone that likes racing fast and blowing large objects up in order to crush opponents.

The tracks are fantastic and perfect settings for destruction. I won’t lie to you, the tracks are childishly simple, but as your blasting round them you will start to realise that you really don’t want them to be any more complex than they are. Upon encountering the few hairpins there are, for example, you will start to curse the pressure of juggling a tight difficult corner whilst helicopter homing missiles rain down on you from above, the shock waves of which batter your poor vehicle all over the place, which will require driving skill to keep under control. They are simple, but necessarily so. On the destructive side, they are spot on though, so expect to encounter ocean liner ship yards, airports, enormous dams, power stations, sewers and places that don’t generally explode, but you sure as hell would like to see them do so. All will have something vast to demolish that will be a massive visual treat, and give you a huge buzz when they atomise your opponents. Each also has shortcuts that can be activated by using your power play bar and often you are better off using these shortcuts rather than going for the violent option as they will give you a significant advantage.

There are several different interesting events, other than simple races to do. Luckily, Split Second does a bit more than simple races. There are plenty of fast paced races, sure, but there are the expected eliminator events, where the person in last place is blown up every 20 seconds or so until there is only one person left, and detonator events, which is basically a time trial where you get a specific car and have to do a timed lap as power plays are triggered automatically and you basically have to avoid destruction and beat the time. These are pretty good, if rather predictable, but there are also events where a heavily armed attack helicopter will shoot missiles at you as you race round the track, and for each wave of barrage you avoid you get points, and basically have to survive as long as you can, the longer the better. This event is updated later on in the game as you have to do the same thing but you get the opportunity to build up your power bar and use it to deflect missiles back at the helicopter taking it down in as quicker time as possible. They are not only challenging but an interesting unique take on destructive racing. My favourite though was the survival events where you have to charge round a wide even more simpler track, whilst huge trucks spit coloured barrels at you which you have to avoid. The blue ones damage your car slightly and slow you down, where the red ones kill you instantly. You basically have to pass as many trucks as you can and you will often have to enter sudden death mode where all trucks will spit red barrels at you constantly in order to win. It is utterly chaotic, as there are other dummy cars driving round that often get caught up in the carnage, and the combination of bouncing rolling barrels all over the track, exploding vehicles everywhere and trying to keep your speed up and pass these juggernaughts is difficult but rewarding.

There are the expected tracks, vehicles, decals and other rewards to unlock. The cars all look fantastic in Split Second, often better looking than the ones the automotive industry produces. If you know your cars it will be obvious which ones have their styling cues stolen from, and there is a lot of them to unlock. All have varying gifts of speed and toughness, grip and drifting abilities, and some variation will be required as, for example, the trucks are better at the survival events for their weight and durability. The further through the single player campaign you get, the more points, and therefore cars, you get, the further along you get the faster and better the car. There is also the decals which are loads of little challenges throughout the game which when achieved will be ordained upon all your vehicles. These include, simple things like winning 5 races or destroying 3 opponents, to more complex harder things such as doing a 300 yard drift, doing a 200 yard jump, taking out 5 opponents with one power play and getting first in every single event. You can easily complete the single player campaign without achieving all of these so it gives an extra incentive to re-visit it and show off your achievements online. Speaking of online, there is the expected “simply jump in and race random people” mode, which will cycle through tracks until you get bored, and you can set up your own race with friends, and use AI opponents to fill in the gaps. All of this is rewarded with an experience points system. Nothing amazing, but it is certainly solid enough for the internet dorks, their foul language and dirty gameplay.

It’s got split screen racing. Don’t fancy going online and just want a mate round for a quick race? Split Second has it covered with a simple split screen race option. “So what” I hear you say, but lets not forget how easily an old school two player game is not considered these days. Not only is it one of the most basic, easiest and most enjoyable aspects of an arcade racer, but it is often forgotten in today’s online obsessed elitist gaming society, filled with the most vile of teenage nerds, that shout a torrent of racist abuse at you because they are not very popular at school and you ruined their one chance that day of not being a total loser that masturbates constantly in their parents basement, by dropping a building on their car. Burnout: Paradise certainly forgot it, and was a worse game for it considering its excellent multiplayer roots. Good show Split Second!

What’s bad?

There just isn’t enough to the racing. Unfortunatley the biggest problem with Split Second is that other than hitting power plays there is very very little to the racing at all. For starters, all the tracks are really simple and rarely involve you hitting the brakes or steering much, its literally point and squirt and memorising tracks will only give you a marginal advantage. Then there’s the fact that in order to win races you must wreck your opponents, through power plays, but you get no reward whatsoever for ramming them, grinding them, bashing them, forcing them into obstacles etc. Absolutely nothing! So all physical contact does is slow you down, and for such a monumentally destructive racing game I thought that was crazy to not involve in any way. There’s no boost or nitrous to use at all either, so other than the stats of your car, you have no advantage over your opponents. Plus, there are only two different types of vehicle, the expected category’s of big, tough, but slow and super fast, light but fragile, and they are not too dissimilar, at least no where near the difference in vehicles experienced in “Motorstorm”. You see, I feel arcade racers need this stuff, it’s what makes the Burnout series so awesome, and the Motorstorm series so chaotic and mental. The power plays are brilliant, but they are just not enough for me, and “no”, it isn’t complicated enough as it is and things such as a boost meter could have easily been included without it being overwhelming. I think they are going to see how well this initial concept sells and more than likely ramp it up for the inevitable sequel, but for now you are left with something that’s just a bit too uninvolving and after the initial shock of your first super power play you will realise this game really only has one trick up its sleeve.

The level of difficulty is not very well thought out. The game obviously gets harder the further into it you get, and the faster your car is, but it’s the way in which it goes about the difficulty which wound me up. Rather than making you graft harder for your rewards, like Monster Hunter, or up your skill levels, like Batman: Arkham Asylum, it simply makes the competition ridiculous. Your opponents will simply blast off into the distance at the beginning of the race no matter how good your car’s stats are, and you spend the remainder of the race catching them up, in some cases not at all. Even if you race perfectly, not getting wrecked once, you can still be lying in 5th whilst your opponents increase their lead over you lap by lap. You can be ploughing along quite nicely at full speed and an opponent, even if they are in an inferior car to you, will simply flash past as though you are at the wheel of a golf buggy. They can also lose you very quickly, as the front running cars hit the horizon almost instantly and you never see them again, but you can never really lose them. Even if you race perfectly and wreck all opponents several times they will be mere inches from you the entire race, nudging your rear bumper trying to force a spin or simply waiting for you to make one tiny slip up and then they fly past, and I mean all of them will pass you, not just a few. For anyone that played the rage inducing bile spitting “Midnight Club: LA” this suffers from a similar problem, just an awful feeling of futility. It’s just such a frustrating and un-enjoyable way to make races harder.

You can still crash when control is taken away from you. Whenever you take out an opponent, by getting a helicopter to drop a bomb on it or something, it often goes to a sort of cut scene where it zooms in on your slain opponents wrecked vehicle, so you can watch it barrel roll down the road in a fireball, very similar to the system in Burnout when you “take down” an opponent. The problem with this, which I’m sure you have guessed, is that although you no longer have control of your car you can still crash into stuff. So you can very often be blasting down the road, trigger a crane to drop its load on your opponent up front, wrecking them, and as you wallow in your victory cut scene, someone behind you has decided to detonate the bus you were just passing, which you couldn’t see because the camera was pointing down the road or avoid as you couldn’t control your car. How are you supposed to stop that? In what way could a crash be avoided? The point is it couldn’t, and few things fill me with such rage in a game than to be punished for something you can do absolutely nothing about. It doesn’t happen constantly, but it will happen, you will be angry, you will lose as a result and you will be left contemplating whether your controller or PS3 will survive a high velocity impact with a wall. Stop doing this to us gaming studios, its wrong!

It’s generally a pretty short game. There are 72 races, split into 12 different “episodes” in the career mode, which sounds a lot, but the majority are repeated, and you simply do different things on the same tracks. It is not really boring, but don’t be deceived by the numerical amount of events, there is not that much to do. Once the career mode is done, there are a myriad of trophies/decals to win and online racing, but the incentive to do either is non-existent, other than the thrill of racing. You can’t customise cars at all, with the exception of a very limited number of colours/paint jobs and the achievement decals are placed automatically, so you don’t get a say in the matter. It by no means will be done with in no time at all but falls well short of games like Gran Turismo, Need for Speed: Shift and Burnout Paradise in terms of game time and involvement for your cash.

Conclusion:

This game is a perfect example of showing that if you are going to base an entire game on one simple concept, then make sure you execute it very well, and Split Second does. This unfortunately leads to its biggest flaw, which is that it also does very little else other than the one concept. It is really good fun though, I have to admit, the racing is fast and exhilarating and when you hit your first super power play your jaw will drop. They are ridiculous! As you progress through a predictable but satisfying career mode the tracks seem to become more explosive, the cars get faster and harder to handle and the ludicrous action and fast paced racing will give you a big buzz and it will please those who like their racing uncomplicated, fun and destructive. It will never achieve greatness however, in my opinion, as there is just not enough to it. It needs more than just destructive environments, and sadly it offers little to nothing else. You really want this to be the love child of Burnout and Motorstorm, with a bit of Need for Speed on the side, but it isn’t and I would say it’s not worth picking up over any of them, albeit by a small margin. However, to be fair, there are not a huge amount of racers out at the moment, and if you’re bored of the ageing Burnout and waiting for the new Gran Turismo, Motorstorm or Need For Speed, this will definitely fill in that gap in your gaming hours that lusts for a quick, explosive, exhilarating and uncomplicated speed thrill. CA.

Summary:

Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 9.0

It’s a very very simple game, that gives you a really good intro race, good on screen prompts where necessary, and all controls will be familiar and instantly instinctive.

Is the story any good? – 5.0

There is not much of a story. The concept of death racing for TV is old and unoriginal, but to be honest, it really doesn’t matter, and the twist at the end is stupid but intriguing.

How does it look? – 9.5

Looks fantastic, especially explosions and fire, and all tracks. All cars look awesome as well. Never tears, glitches or slows down either. Pretty flawless.

How does it sound? – 10.0

I loved the music in Split Second. The music is not by any known artist, but sounds like the music from The Matrix, Reloaded, fast paced drum beats, with dramatic orchestral sounds accompanying it. The music fades in and out when you hit the really big power plays and the sound effects of collapsing sky scrapers is fantastic.

Is it good to play? – 8.0

Its fast paced, explosive stuff, the power plays will blow your mind and give you a huge sense of satisfaction watching a building collapse on to your opponents in front. There is no point in physical contact though, there is no boosting/nitrous, and when not using power plays, there is nothing to it, literally. The difficulty is stupid as well. It just needs more!

When will I get bored? – 7.0

The career mode is decent enough, there is split screen racing, and the usual online stuff. A lack of tracks, differentiating vehicles, little rewards and general simplicity result in a very good but fairly short lived thrill.

OVERALL – 8.0

Review created by C. Armstrong.

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