18th May 2010 | 10:34
Review supplied by GamesMaster magazine. Buy your copy online and have it delivered to your door.
When we say that Split/Second: Velocity is an arcade racer you probably already have a preconceived idea of what to expect. We can't say we blame you. Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing clearly owes its existence to the seminal Mario Kart in the same way that Activision's upcoming Blur lifts plenty of ideas from Wipeout and Midnight Club.
While we're playing the comparison game, take a look at those exaggerated, Matchbox-style cars, the gorgeous scenery and high speed vehicle wreckages and tell us you don't see Burnout. We've noted the similarities between the two since Disney Interactive first announced the game at the start of 2009 and it's a likeness that it has failed to shake off.
However, to assume that Split/Second is little more than a pale imitation would do the guys at Black Rock Studios (last responsible for the addictive quad racer, Pure) a serious injustice. Not least because Split/Second features a raft of great new ideas and minigames so well implemented we're convinced that we must have enjoyed something similar to them before. If we haven't, Black Rock Studios have stumbled across some genius ideas...
It seems appropriate to us that Disney are in charge of publishing duties here because Split/Second feels like it's part Disney World rollercoaster ride, part Hollywood action film. Each race is orchestrated chaos; you know something is going to happen - it's just a matter of when...
Unlike other action racers that use conventional weaponry ('conventional' in this sense being shells, lightning bolts and boxing gloves) or use vehicles themselves to cause the damage (a la Burnout), the key to the carnage in Split/Second is manipulation of the track itself. Drift, draft, jump and dodge and you'll earn powerplays - the chance to trigger a pyrotechnic moment. Mostly, these are used to blow up the cars ahead. In special instances (when you've built up three powerplays), they'll be used to trigger something much more imaginatively astonishing that could reshape the route of the track.
Sure, we guessed that bridges would disintegrate, towers would collapse across the circuit and those suspicious helicopters carrying payloads of flamey death weren't just there to get a good view. What we weren't expecting - at least, first time round - was having to dodge a massive Boeing coming into land mid-race, needing to leap from a sinking aircraft carrier or that the side of a mountain would actually detonate into a shower of rubble in front of us. Weaving through smoke, falling rubble and the burning remnants of a dozen train carriages that rolled onto the circuit is just one of the many eye-popping moments that makes Split/Second: Velocity one of the most spectacular racers of the year.
Believe it or not, as exciting as these races are, they will eventually develop a degree of predictability; for example, you'll learn not to drive underneath the dry-docked ocean liner because it will at some point drop on your head and you'll eventually acknowledge the location of every trackside crane that threatens to smash you into your component pieces. To counteract this, Split/Second spices up the action with a variety of different race styles, such as Detonator, Air Strike and Survival (see the boxes for more information on these).
That said, the Detonator mode (essentially a time trial race where powerplays are out of your control and triggered in order) actively encourages you to memorise what bits can blow up and where. Will familiarity eventually breed contempt? Perhaps - but that won't stop you revelling in the high speed destruction until at least the end of your first full season.
TIME TO BURN
In many ways, Split/Second: Velocity is a fantastic example of how good racers can look and a fabulous demonstration of innovation. But it's not perfect. While we can tell that the 360 hardware is being brutally punished by the on-screen action, after playing Blur (which can cater to a field of 20 drivers), we can't help ourselves hankering for more competitors than the eight Split/Second can manage. Also, we're still finding it hard to completely remove it from Burnout's mighty shadow.
That Split/Second isn't quite as fast is a shame, as is our belief that actual driving skill (in traditional races, at least) doesn't play as much role in your grid position as it does in Criterion's racer.
The sheer area-effect devastation of your average powerplay means that there isn't so much impetus on being the fastest driver when you can sit back, drop bombs on the frontrunners and then drive around their smouldering corpses. Although, we will hasten to add that we might change our minds about this once we start racing online against the infinitely more aggressive general public...
We enjoyed Split/Second: Velocity immensely. It looks fantastic, contains some brilliant gameplay modes and frequently provided us with awesome, adrenaline-filled moments that had us sucking through our teeth as we narrowly avoided the outlandish destructiveness of a toppling power station or a missile-launching helicopter gunship. Split/Second is a racing game in the same way that Top Gear is a show about reviewing cars; why get bogged down with the boring technicalities and the restrictive realism that appeal to car nerds when you can opt for fire, brimstone and the accessibility that comes with crowd-pleasing exhibitionism?
If you take that as a criticism, then you'd best get back to adjusting the downforce and tyre pressure settings in Forza 3 or waiting ever-patiently for Gran Turismo 5. If it sounded to you like a compliment, then welcome to Split/Second: Velocity. Strap yourself in - you're going to have a blast...