Racing has never been like this before. Sure, itâ€™s been insanely fast. It's been barely under control. There have been multiple takedowns, explosions, total destruction, hidden shortcuts and split second wins. But, whatâ€™s never happened before, at least not in the middle of any race Iâ€™ve been in, is to have a massive great passenger jet crash in front of me. Or to have a huge cargo ship slide, sparking across the racetrack taking out three cars in a ball of flame. But, if youâ€™re playing Split/Second: Velocity, get used to it because in the arcade racer from developers Black Rock Studios, this kind of stuff happens all the time. In fact, buses, bridges and planes and cranes are constantly sent flying all round the track, making winning a race not just a matter of going fast, but also about avoiding the container ship, or freight train, or building thatâ€™s rolling down the road towards you.
Set in the world of reality TV, the story mode of Split/Second, funnily enough, doesnâ€™t offer any real story at all. Essentially itâ€™s just a way of organising the races. The TV show breaks groups of races into 12 episodes. Each race you compete in, depending how you do, earns you points. Earn enough points and you unlock the episodeâ€™s elite races. Complete the elite races and you unlock the next episode. Itâ€™s all accessed straight from a simple and uncluttered menu that lets you get straight into the carnage. The clutter comes when you start racing.
Each location is simply packed full of things to crash through, crash into, jump over or slide around. Although not particularly original, they range from airports, to shipyards, construction sites and city streets. Disappointingly, the game isnâ€™t the cleanest or most detailed graphically, often looking four or five years behind out of date. However, there is just so much going on. Debris is always flying across the track and more burned out vehicles block the streets every time you complete a circuit. But itâ€™s the big stuff thatâ€™s the best in the game. The cargo ship that was sitting patiently in dry-dock ends up on itâ€™s side burning in the harbour. Or the airplane hanger that was an uneventful little tunnel, second time round is collapsing in flames, and now makes up a series of jumps taking you over your previous route and cutting seconds from your lap times.
Working your way through the locations does not pose much of a problem as the control system is little more then a beak and accelerator. Driving fast is a matter of balancing between the two, in order to get the maximum drift around the corners. Drifting is essential to the game because it is one of the quickest ways of filling up your power play meter. Other ways of filling the meter are drafting, narrow misses and jumps. All are important because a full power play meter allows you to perform power plays.
And Split/Second is all about power plays. Just about everything is rigged to blow. If you get behind in a race a blue icon will appear over a competitor as they close on an explosive location. By pressing x you can trigger the explosion and take out the one car in front of you. However, if you have a power play meter thatâ€™s filled up into the red, a red icon may appear briefly giving you the opportunity to trigger a level two power play. Get this exactly right and you could bring down a building, or a whole section of the course, knocking out all your competitors and even changing the track completely. The power plays make Split/Second a full-on and explosive racing experience.
But, Split/Second is also a stripped down, lean arcade racer. As such, going from last to first is not much of a problem. Bumping into walls and competitorsâ€™ cars wonâ€™t hurt much; damage hardly effects handling and car selection is often out of your hands. Thereâ€™s no buying upgrades or worrying about your exit lines. In Split/Second everything is black and white â€“ you have an accelerator and a break, and your carâ€™s either good-to-go or a flaming wreck. But conversely your competitors are always just one mistake behind. The other leveller is when youâ€™re out in front you canâ€™t aim power plays at those behind you, so if youâ€™re in first place then youâ€™re an easy target, and if youâ€™re not careful it will be you pulling yourself out from under a collapsed building and having to claw your way back from last spot.
Together with circuit races, elimination races and time trials you have survival races where you have to pass trucks throwing explosives at you and air strike races where a helicopter constantly tries to take you out with rockets. In keeping with the philosophy of the game multiplayer modes are also uncluttered and uncomplicated although connecting to a public race can take time and courses and cars are only available in two-player once theyâ€™ve been unlocked in the story.
For the most part Split/Second: Velocity hits the mark like a cargo ship through your windscreen. Itâ€™s extreme fun and effortless to get into, like the best weekend party games should be, but may struggle over the longer term. There are less than thirty cars and the courses, while very well designed, twist and turn through the same limited number of locations. However, all things considered Split/Second is an absolute blast, in more ways then one.