A couple of key franchises already have the strict simulation and arcade racing genres wrapped up pretty tightly, so a new IP entering either arena needs something pretty special in order to entice gamers. Split/Second: Velocity throws its hat squarely into the arcade arena, combining the best elements of two of arcade racing’s most popular established titles. In many ways, it’s like the Project Gotham Racing series meets the Burnout series; combining the drift-heavy, points-based progression of the former with the over-the-top explosive shenanigans of the latter. Naturally, it also brings its own flavour to proceedings.
The game is played out like you’re participating in a fictional reality TV series and is split into episodes (each containing new tracks and new environments). While most of the events play out as a fairly straightforward racer, players fill a ‘power-play‘ meter by successfully drifting around corners, drafting other racers, getting air and so on. Once one or more of three power-play bars have been filled, the player can use a bar to initiate a power-play event that may take down other racers. These events range from simple explosions from the side of the track (the force of which may push opponents into obstacles) to more extreme events requiring three bars such as a full-blown building collapse, its debris scattering all over the race track. However, the well-prepared opponent can dodge these power-play events, and it wouldn’t be entirely fair if they couldn’t use them against you as well! It results in an adrenaline-soaked racing experience that really will keep you on your toes the entire time. While a decent lead on your opponents might give you cause to relax in other racers, you just may have to watch out for an errant airplane crashing onto the road in front of you in Split/Second: Velocity. It’s an interesting mechanic that – while oh-so satisfying when you clutch victory from the jaws of defeat in the closing seconds of a race – is incredibly frustrating when the tables are turned, especially if you’ve driven like a champ the entire race.
The power-play meter can also be used to open up shortcuts in some situations. If such an opportunity presents itself, an icon will appear above your car with an arrow pointing in the direction of a potential shortcut; activating your power-play may then, for example, activate a crane that will temporarily remove an obstacle and reveal a new path. Opportunists can make use of the shortcuts activated by other racers if they’re quick about it, without wasting a precious power-play event! Finally, power-play events can also be used at a key point in some races to alter the entire layout of the track altogether.
The game’s visuals reflect the blatant arcade racer leanings of the game itself, with pretty – albeit unrealistic – graphics that suit its the over-the-top nature quite well. The exorbitance of the on-screen activity is truly impressive at times as the environment disintegrates around you. In a very nice touch, the key heads-up display (HUD) details for a racer – specifically your race position and lap number – actually float over your car’s rear bumper. This serves a dual purpose in that you never have to divert your concentration from the car to check important details, and the rest of the real estate isn’t obscured by such information. Split/Second’s HUD is probably the cleanest for a current-gen racer, especially given that there are no speedometers and maps to speak of. Also missing from Split/Second: Velocity are licensed cars, although that’s quite forgivable in a purely arcade racer such as this.
Split/Second begins with some fairly stock-standard arcade racing game types – your straightforward races, elimination modes, etc – and opens up after a couple of episodes to introduce some quite unique ones. For instance, ‘Nemesis’ tasks the player with passing as many trucks as possible in an LA, Terminator 2-esque drainage ditch while dodging explosive barrels falling from the trailer of said trucks. And a personal favourite of mine, ‘Survival’, requires the player to successfully navigate a track while under missile fire from an attack helicopter (with a variant unlocked soon after that gives the player the opportunity to repel the barrage of missiles using their power-play meter)! However, it’s not a particularly long game by any stretch, and most gamers will most likely plough through the game’s 12 episodes in a couple of days. You don’t need to win or even necessarily place in races in order to progress; you’ll earn a lesser amount of credits used to unlock other races and episodes, the lower your placing. However, you will find it difficult to progress later in the game if you’ve coasted by on mostly 4th placings, which will require you to revisit some races to better your placing for more credits. There is a bonus race in each episode that is unlocked once you achieve a certain number of take-downs within that episode, though, so you can go back to those if you miss them the first time through. I do fear, however, that the game’s replay factor lies mostly in its multiplayer component, which as far as I can gather is mostly the same as the single-player but, er, against other, human racers. Being a pre-release copy, I’m afraid I was unable to test out the online aspect and can only speculate.
It is super fun while it lasts, but there doesn’t appear to be much of an incentive to revisit Split/Second: Velocity outside of the online multiplayer. However, the episodic nature of the single-player has me guessing that we just might see downloadable episodes in the future…