It’s More Bang For Your Buck Time
© 2010 Gav Ross
It seems to be a prerequisite for all new arcade racing games to use phrases in their press releases such as ‘adrenaline-filled’, ‘high-octane’ and ‘non-stop thrills’, as if the product they’re selling you is on par with the most explosive of blockbuster Hollywood films.
Some of these racing games deliver moments that live up to these descriptions, but most feel vaguely familiar, so that players feel like they’re playing a sequel to the last thrilling racer – just with updated graphics. Split/Second: Velocity not only delivers on the marketing quotes, it’s a completely visceral experience that at times borders on sensory overload.
Right from the beginning in the menus you’re jolted by music with pounding beats and visuals that include explosions behind the menu option boxes.
• Split Second: Velocity Gameplay Fun:
To compliment this electrifying intro, there are tiny shards of glass that hover slowly across the screen – as if you’ve just been in a car accident and, in a dazed state, you’re seeing the game options placed before your eyes.
The core of Velocity is it’s ‘Season Mode‘ – separated into 12 ‘episodes’ filled with 7 events each. Before each episode begins there’s a short intro with voiceover work to help you believe that Split/Second is a reality television show of some type and that each ongoing episode is more bombastic than the last.
It’s a nice touch and the intro movies give an indication of what sort of environment you can expect to race in next. Or, more specifically, what sorts of things will blow up around your vehicle as you spend your time dodging falling bridges, exploding trucks, fiery canisters dropped from helicopters, imploding buildings along the sides of the track and, now and then, plummeting skyscrapers.
Appetite For Destruction
Split/Second is based around elements of destruction and how you can use them to your advantage. In the simple ‘race’ mode, you’re expected to not only win with a good time while weaving by your enemies, but you’re also recommended to create as much carnage as possible and destroy all other contenders in your way.
Eliminating the competition works in a similar fashion to Burnout’s classic takedowns; except that instead of ramming into other cars or forcing them into obstacles, players are encouraged to detonate various objects on and around the track.
After building up some juice in your meter by drifting or drafting, a simple ‘Powerplay’ to make might be to press A when the enemy a short way ahead is just passing that perfectly-placed gas tank on the side of the road; or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, you could spend time building up your meter until it maxes out, creating the opportunity for a ‘level 2′ Powerplay.
These are usually detonations designed to change the course of a race – if activated properly, that is. A helicopter might suddenly fly ahead and drop a propane-filled dump truck into the laps of other drivers, or the Powerplay might of the ‘route-changing’ variety and when driving through a canyon a whole side of a mountain might rupture and rain down boulders in a cataclysmic mess on the track, crushing all that come near it.
There’s very little in gaming (or life) as satisfying as inflicting a Powerplay at the best possible moment and then speeding past the burning vehicular carcasses of your fallen prey into first place. There are, of course, downsides to Powerplays.
Not only will other drivers be constantly trying to destroy your car themselves with their own plays, but ones activated by yourself are just as dangerous. Getting to know the tracks and certain types of Powerplays that might be lurking around the next bend is imperative in order to stay in the top few positions and ultimately win races.
When you activate a Powerplay and a bus filled with flames comes rolling onto the track, you’re just as susceptible to crashing into it as the other drivers. And there are moments of utter humiliation to be had when you think you’ve craftily activated a play – such as activating a helicopter to drop a giant steel beam in front of your opponent – only to see them dodge it as the last moment and cause a moment of distraction where you plunge into it bonnet-first yourself.
‘Elimination‘ is the same as the one found in Burnout where there’s a timer and you’re forced to not be in last place every time it reaches zero, lest you explode;
‘Air Strike‘ sees a helicopter dropping a multitude of rockets on the track in front of you that need to be dodged;
‘Detonator‘ is a type of time trial; and ‘Survival’ – which consists of a convoy of trucks that need to be passed in quick succession, except it isn’t too easy to pass them as they hurl explosive barrels in front of you that need to be avoided!
Formidable AI and Rubberbanding To Make You Cry
The higher your finishing position the more credits you will be awarded at the end of an event, and credits unlock faster, stronger and more insane vehicles. Black Rock Studios’ last game – the quad-bike thrill-fest known as Pure – was a fairly difficult game to master as the player had to experiment with vehicle types to see which was best for each sort of event.
The same thing is repeated on Split/Second, except the difficulty level has ramped up considerably. The AI in Velocity is downright brutal and often incredibly frustrating.
You could be having what feels like an almost-perfect race: taking out multiple cars with powerplays and avoiding danger yourself, only to find 2-3 vehicles rush by you out of nowhere as you’re nearing the end of the final lap.
The events that don’t involve any other cars but your own are actually the most impossible of all as the first position time trials in ‘Detonator’ that need to be beaten are something only experts will be able to pull off after probably playing the same track many, many times over.
Make one mistake – such as knocking the barrier slightly on a corner or slowing down too early at one spot – and you might as well hit restart, because you’re never going to beat the top time.
Logic would suggests that as you progress through each episode and unlock new cars that you can always go back with a slicker, better car later on and beat the event you could only get second or third place in earlier.
Velocity doesn’t let you off that easily – even if you unlock the final car in the game and go back to the races in the first episode, your opponent’s cars will automatically upgrade to match the stats of yours. It’s a grind, and the fact that there’s no option to lower difficulty at any point in the game means that you either have to face feeling average or spend hours on each track honing your skills.
The multiplayer mode of the game isn’t much easier, especially if you find yourself in a lobby with players who’ve finished all episodes in the Season section and now have the best cars to race with. There’s an online levelling system that runs from 99 to 1, with your ‘form’ ranking going up or down depending on what position you get each race.
While racing other drivers from around the world does mean less opportunity for cheap tricks – such as sneaking past you near the finish line – it does mean that real-world players aren’t as stupid as the AI and don’t fall for as many Powerplays thrown their way.
In short bursts, Split/Second: Velocity is a satisfying assault on the senses that doesn’t let up, and for achievement addicts it’s something of a nightmare attempting to come first in each of the Season’s 72 events in order to unlock a large part of the title’s full gamerscore. [ED: Check out Split Second: Velocity's Achievements]
It’s a game that rarely let’s you take a breather and it doesn’t attempt to be anything but a frenzied, combustible take on the arcade racing genre. If you’ve got problems with high blood pressure then you might be better off sticking with Forza.
© 2010 Gav Ross
Filed under: 3rd Party Games, Console gaming, Forza 3, Game Impressions, New Xbox 360 Games, Racing, Xbox 360, Xbox 360 Game Reviews, Xbox 360 News Tagged: | Black Rock Studios, Burnout, Forza 3, PURE, Split Second Air Strike, Split Second Detonator, Split Second Elimination, Split Second review, Split Second Season Mode, Split Second Velocity, Split Second Velocity review, Velocity review, Xbox 360