Split/Second Preview (PS3)
If there’s one thing Britain can be proud of, it’s our racing game pedigree. Colin McRae, Project Gotham, Burnout and the upcoming Blur were all made in the UK, and we’ve now got a new triple-A title to add to our already impressive national portfolio – Disney’s Split Second, officially known here in Europe as Split Second: Velocity.
It’s the latest title from the Disney-owned Black Rock Studio in Brighton for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC and Strategy Informer was given the chance to go hands-on with an approaching-final build at the start of April.
The key premise of Split Second is based around exhilarating, action-packed high-speed races that look like they’re something out of a Michael Bay movie. Gamers tend to compare it to Burnout right off the bat, though Split Second has some key, notable differences to Criterion’s crash-based racer.
Split Second isn’t really about the crashes – it’s about how you get to them. As a race progresses, players build up a meter by performing stunts and driving well – and then that meter can be spent on ‘events’ – moments in a race that trigger a special event on the track which could cause explosions, drop obstacles onto the track or completely change the track for better or worse.
It’s not about picking up power-ups or ramming opponents off the track to wreck them like Blur or Burnout – instead it’s about driving as impressively as you can until you build up enough of your Powerplay meter to execute an awesome move that’ll help propel you into first place. Powerplays are bound to specific areas of the track – as you drive you’ll see icons appear off in the distance, flagging up that there’s a powerplay to be triggered there. Timing is of the essence, so you have to make sure your rivals are in the zone a powerplay will effect – though thankfully the game makes that nice and clear.
Bigger events will require more of the meter, so a key tactic in the game is to decide if you’re going to build up that meter until you can execute a track-changing event that’ll open up a massive shortcut for you to use or if you’ll execute plenty of the smaller-but-effective events that can get in the way of your opponents.
While the game has some pretty cool looking wrecks and crashes like Burnout, what’s really impressive is how the environment gets destroyed. With big powerplays entire buildings can be collapsed into rubble, and that rubble will then get in the way of what was previously the track.
Entire routes can change in seconds, and it’s really conceptually unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a racing game of this kind. They’re extravagant, over-the-top and awesome, and they definitely live up to that Michael Bay (ED: Does that also mean completely lacking in depth?) inspiration that Disney are so keen to mention every time they show off the game.
The powerplays really work well in gameplay, too. It’s incredibly satisfying to trigger a massive powerplay when there are three or four or five cars in the area that it affects. You’ll watch them get engulfed in an explosion and zip past them – it feels good, and I can imagine this being a ton of fun online against complete strangers.
Sadly fully-fledged multiplayer wasn’t available in the build I played, but it will of course feature heavily in the final version and the game mechanics are largely unchanged when playing it with multiple people.
The premise of Split Second is pretty fun, and Black Rock seem to have built up a little bit of a story to go along with it. The city you’re destroying is one big sound-stage for a reality TV show. Sort of like the movie Death Race but notably without the Death.
It works well enough, but while the city is pretty graphically I felt it lacked the character that Burnout’s Paradise City did – but then again, this is a track-based game, not a free-roaming game like Paradise, and so that stuff has taken a clear back seat to maximising the chaos and destruction on-track.
It’s clear that the game needs a little tiny bit of work; tweaks that’ll ensure a solid framerate are an absolute must if this game is to enjoyable for an extended period and in some cases the gameplay balance felt a little off, though I was happy to see the computer-controlled vehicles providing more than an ample challenge in my time with the game.
While we were shown a few different modes, the game will definitely also need some more event styles than what I was presented with to appear as more than a one-trick pony, but I was ensured there’d be great variety in events in the final game.
It’s chaotic, fun, and very, very pretty. You might want to gasp and wow at some of those big powerplays, but with how crazy Split Second is you won’t have time to! A bit of polish and spit shine and Disney could have another massive contender in the racing space on their hands.