Back in 2006 racing games were going through a tough patch, developers and publishers were clearly at a position where they felt the genre had to change. That driving was no longer enough to interest the common gamer; designers were given the mission to produce something new, something to reinvigorate the genre. Whether this was the right decision, time will tell but for Disney, it was a surprise move well outside of their perceived comfort zone.
First shown at E3 2009, Split Second made an impressive debut with big bold graphical effects and an unusual approach to the weapon systems; it was going to be one of those games that you really need to play form any kind of meaningful opinion. Then the recent demo gave many people a first hands-on, but was that representative of the final product? We got hold of our press copy and put it through its paces to find out.
Besides the usual, I didn’t know a great deal about the structure of the 1-Player game so had little in the way of preconceptions. Split Second Velocity (they randomly added the word Velocity to the title) is a TV show of the future, think Running Man but without the running or Arnie, instead, the muscles come in the form of big aggressive motors ready to do battle on a scale like you’ve never seen.
The premise of the game is a basic one, win the races and stay alive, destroy your opponents by detonating explosives set at the sides of the track. Generate the ability to use these explosives by powering your energy bar via drafting opponents and drifting. So with that explained, hit start and you’ll be presented with some very tidy and highly polished menu’s, fiddle with the left stick and it moves the screen around a little, I always like silly little touches like that. Options include Season, Quick Race and Multiplayer, so first you’ll need to learn the basics and unlock a few tracks for the latter two modes by entering a season and getting stuck in.
On first playing the demo it was a strange feeling, lots of shaking cameras and motion blur but it still felt slightly sluggish, get into the game proper and it’s an altogether different experience. Within the first few races the action really picks up, as does the scale of track-side destruction. It’s immediately addictive and explosive, in one race I remember heading toward the finish line in 3rd and dropping a bomb on the front two rivals, I literally drove into the explosion and came out in first place and across the finish line.
It doesn’t get any closer than that but in Split Second it’s all about close calls. Meanwhile, handling is fun enough, it’s a basic arcade approach, brake, turn-in, accelerate. But don’t put too much power down as cars have a tendency to drive out wide. Some cars simply can’t slide without either hitting a wall or going very slowly indeed. For good cornering, you need to be gentle on the brakes to scrub off speed and more precise with a turn-in so the car doesn’t slide. A simple but effective model, certainly not designed for the purist racer who wants consistent clean laps.
Enter the second of 12 seasons in the game and you meet your friend the helicopter gunship, race along and survive volleys of shots as you race round the track, avoid the shots but don’t go too slow or it’s all over. Initially challenging it’s all about car selection, drift less and keep your speed up and by chapter 5 you get the chance to fire back, always a satisfying result. Another interesting mode is survival, race on a simple track while giant trucks hurtle round distributing their load. In this case, it’s explosive gas canisters. All kinds of madness tend to ensue and the result is often quite random, no two games are ever the same. A simple but effective mode and a worthy addition to the package.
Back to the 1-Player experience and things are getting tougher, with some races seemingly near impossible, a single event took me 35 attempts to get gold and I’m well above the average player. From a play experience of a 9 down to a 7, I had gone from loving every minute to being constantly frustrated. Every race is a chore and taking one unfair finish after another.
For example, CPU cars can get a lead of up to 9 seconds but for players that’s simply impossible, CPU cars get a boost when behind the player but it doesn’t appear to work vice-versa, this combining for an unfair experience. Players can lead an entire race and get blown up at the end of the race after race via unavoidable objects, something went very wrong in the AI balance and I would be interested to get more feedback from those who own the game.
Online, the game is functional but far too basic, drivers would be advised to complete the 1-Player game before going online as there don’t appear to be any car restriction options. The game also lacks any kind of meaningful ranking system, it’s all a bit of a clunky experience. Get into the racing and it’s all good fun, however, though my favourite online mode still happens to be the survival mode and lets just say I enjoyed kicking some ass. If there’s one thing that’s fun about online its demolishing your rivals and seeing them flailing helplessly off the track.
There is also a range of time trial leaderboards, but when you race there is no time presented to the player. So you’ll need to remember the time or note it down, again missing the opportunity to constantly compete with your friends. It should also be defined which course-routes they took, otherwise we’ll find players competing while thinking they’re on the same track when the top time may have used a different shortcut, this is exacerbated but the lack of a ghost option. The competing with friends could and should have been better implemented in the support of longevity and with no stats supported on web-based leaderboards, alas it’s not something our VVV Stats system can currently help with either.
Options and HUD too are limited, the aforementioned lack of an in-game timer, no speed gauge, no steering wheel compatibility, no manual gears or rev limiter, no reply mode (limited replays are available at the point of wrecking an opponent), no photo’s mode, no ability to upload anything online and no car paint or decal editor. Lots of options that cost time and money to implement but would no doubt have aided the foundation of a long-term online community.
One thing that can’t be faulted is the graphics, big bold and colourful, Split Second may have that Michael Bay feeling but it all fits together perfectly in this crazy destructive world. The deformable environments are stunning with huge objects collapsing all around the player as the race progresses. Car designs are also well suited, mixing a range of well-known models but with a concept twist fitting this fantasy world. It may not hit 60fps but with all of the action in full swing, it’s clear to see why: Black Rock has done an incredible job in putting this together and we look forward to their future developments with this engine.
Sound is a mixed bag, engines are weedy and lack any kind of grunt. They don’t fit in with the style and look of the cars (Mustangs etc), the engines are also pretty quiet, suddenly getting much louder in a confined space, it would have been nice to have the engine balance as a separate channel in the sound options. Environmental effects are great and the music suits the TV style perfectly, everything works but next time, let’s hope we get engines with a little more grunt in the next edition.
Split Second: Velocity is unique in its approach, it’s fun, crazy and can be hilarious at times. A wonderfully intense experience and a fully realised world with a fantastic attention to detail. An arcade romp that’s great fun for anyone and a recommended purchase within this aspect of the racing genre, but two critical aspects let the package down, AI and longevity, both of which will need serious focus in the future. These aspects taking the score down from a 9 to just about scraping into an 8 out of 10. A roller coaster ride of adrenaline-fueled action, if you let it, Split Second: Velocity will blow your socks off, just expect to be putting those socks back on again sooner than you’d like.
Split Second: Velocity is unique in its approach, it’s fun, crazy and can be hilarious at times. A wonderfully intense experience and a fully realised world with a fantastic attention to detail. An arcade romp that’s great fun for anyone and a recommended purchase for arcade action fans of the racing genre, but two critical aspects let the package down, AI and longevity, both of which leave plenty of room for improvement. These aspects taking the score down from a 9 to just about scraping into an 8 out of 10. A roller coaster ride of adrenaline fuelled action, if you let it, Split Second: Velocity will blow your socks off, just expect to be putting those socks back on again sooner that you’d like.