Split/Second: Velocity is an arcade meets kart racer that’ll have you on the edge of your seat cheering as much as hurling abuse at inanimate objects. It’s an arcade (kart) racer published by Disney, but the “don’t do this in real life” warning is where the connection ends. That’s not to say it’s a mature title, but the action packed events in Split/Second aren’t what you typically expect to see from anything Disney.
Split/Second adopts the format of a TV show, by the same name, that has participants in a range of driving-based contests. These include straight forward races, elimination (where the the last placed competitor is eliminated every 20 seconds) and time trials. Beyond these familiar faces there’s air strike, where you have to avoid missiles from helicopters, and detonator, which is essentially a time trial with explosive obstructions. Finally, there’s survival; you’re up against a fleet of trucks driving at speed and dropping explosive barrels. Depending on the colour, said barrels will either slow you down or wreck your ride. Your goal is to overtake as many trucks as possible within the time limit. If you earn enough credits, by placing well, in each of these events the championship race for that episode will be available and send you racing into the next episode of Split/Second – as long as you continue your good form.
In total their are 12 “episodes” in the career mode, each consisting of a mixture of the aforementioned events. On the whole, the TV style presentation is just a front and excuse to play. Ironically, it’s presented as a reality TV show and the premise couldn’t be further away from reality while remaining in the comprehension of the real world.
Split/Second’s hook is its power play component and what sets it apart from competing hybrid arcade/kart racers. If you’re not a drifter, now’s the time to learn as you won’t make it far in the world of Split/Second otherwise. Drifting, along with drafting and jumping, fills up a power gauge that allows you to wreck opponents, and rather stylishly at that. Filling up one section of the three part meter allows you to trigger an explosive event that’ll temporally knock out one, or several, opponents. These range from helicopters dropping explosive barrels to trucks crashing through buildings onto the track and machinery going haywire, smashing everything in its path. If you fill up all three sections of the meter, power plays are even more devastating and become almost impossible to avoid. A commercial jet plummeting into the track is hard to miss, so make sure you’re well out of its path to avoid shooting yourself in the foot.
There’s always something happening and moving obstacles make the tracks hard to follow. Yet, developer Black Rock manages to make the twists and turns obvious enough so you spot alternate routes just in time. The fast paced nature has a The Fast and the Furious feel to it, which is perfect for Split/Second’s target market. It’s all about astonishingly fast cars, explosive environments and leaving opponents in a trail of urban dust.
The controls and drifting mechanics are fairly simple, but they needed to be as there’s no time to think, only to react, after all you only have a split second to make decisions. It encompasses the best of both arcade and kart racers and leaves you energized and pumped up for the next race. While on the surface it appears to be a no-brainer arcade racer, using power plays tactically becomes crucial, not only to avoid wrecking yourself, but to use them only when required. There’s no point taking out a competitor that you can easily overtake with nothing but driving skill. That power play would be better severed destroying the race leader. It looks like mindless explosions, but the power play mechanic compliments the arcade style of racer. That is, assuming you can overlook the issues that have been with arcade racers since the dawn of time.
Split/Second doesn’t avoid many of the pitfalls that have plagued arcade and kart racers for generations. A rewind feature, like that seen in Forza 3, would have been perfect in Split/Second even if it had limited usage. It’s impossible not to crash several times in each race and after a while the lack of a rewind feature becomes a little frustrating. It’s compounded by the fact that you can never really break free from the pack, in typical arcade racer fashion. Rubber-banding is an issue in both arcade and kart racers and an annoying downfall in Split/Second. You’ve never won a race until you’ve crossed the finish line as there’s every chance a power play will knock you from 1st to 8th at the very last moment. Player skill is rendered useless as finishing first is as much dependent on luck as it is being the best man out there. Like Mario Kart, you’re often better off sitting in the middle of the pack and making your move towards the end of the race. Perhaps that’s somewhat expected in an arcade racer nowadays, but it’s unbearably frustrating for the more skilled gamers out there.
The rubber-banding effect is hardly a deal-breaker, as Split/Second is all about fast, exciting and unpredictable gameplay. Each race is always close and exciting; rarely in either single or multiplayer does one person dominate after breaking out into a lead. Having said that, in the later “episodes” one or two opponents are nearly impossible to beat in the championship races. The only way to win, with lady luck on your side, is hit them with a power play at the crucial moment with mere seconds remaining – even on the easiest setting. It’s another flaw that has stuck with arcade racers though the ages and is by far more annoying than the rubber-banding, as there’s no way to beat them through racing prowess alone. However, unbeatable opponents (without luck) are only present in the championship race at the end of each episode towards the latter part of the career and can easily be overlooked in favour of the explosive fun. If you’re willing to replay the event enough times you will get the critical break you need, eventually. It’s just something many players won’t be willing to do, unless they’re after achievements/trophies.
Split/Second: Velocity looks fantastic. The environments and effects are vibrant and plentiful, as are the car models which look brilliant in motion. The decreased HUD is a fantastic addition, or should we say subtraction. So often in racing games we’re overloaded with information that ruins the experience, but not so in Split/Second. Only the essential information is on screen, with the power play bar at the bottom and the lap and your position displayed just below the car in the default view. The remaining space is reserved for explosion fun, and there’s a lot of it. The frame rate holds strong and rarely lags which is an amazing feat considering how much is happening on screen at any one time.