Split/Second: Velocity – The PS3 Attitude Review
Split/Second: Velocity (known simply as Split/Second in North America) is the second PS3 title from Brighton-based Black Rock Studio. The game was first revealed at the beginning of last year, with the developer promising high speed and masses of destruction, but did they deliver?
In the game, you are a contestant in the fictional television show Split/Second, which airs on BRTV. The show has an emphasis on destruction, which basically means it plays a lot like a grown-up kart-racer, but instead of shooting shells or banana skins, you use the environment and literally destroy the track to take out your opponents.
After the game has installed the 3.7GB of mandatory data onto the HDD, you are launched straight into the tutorial, which teaches you the controls, and, more importantly, the basics of Power Plays: acts of varying degrees of destruction to (hopefully) wreck your rivals and allow you to pull ahead of the pack. Initially the controls feel a little sluggish, but the tutorial is all the time you need to acquaint yourself, and you’ll soon be drifting with L2 without even thinking about it.
Before you can unleash Power Plays you must fill the Power Bar, located on the screen just below your vehicle, along with your position and the lap counter, so the HUD is as unobtrusive as possible. You can fill the Power Bar in a number of ways including drifting around corners, getting air time, or drafting behind opponents. Once the Bar is at least one third full, you’re able to unleash a level 1 Power Play.
Whenever you see an icon above a rival car, a simple push of X is all it takes to blow up a nearby bus, swing a crane around onto the track, or have a helicopter drop a bomb, hopefully taking out a rival or two in the process. However, save your Power until the Bar is completely full, and you can unleash level 2 Power Plays: jaw-dropping set pieces that can alter the track’s layout, such as collapsing a bridge, crashing a passenger jet onto the track, or even releasing a ferry from its tethering.
If you’re worried that Power Plays are merely a gimmick then never fear, as they are in fact an integral part of the gameplay, and it’s impossible to win if you don’t use them. True, they always work in exactly the same way, but this is actually to the game’s benefit, as it adds a level of strategy. Learning the location of each Power Play is extremely important, so that you can not only use them against your rivals, but also avoid them if your rivals use them against you.
Once you’re done with the tutorial, it’s time to visit the main menu where you can access the various modes: Season, Quick Play, Online, and Split Screen. Also in the menu is the Extras section, in which you can view a handful of statistics, online leaderboards, and any decals you have unlocked. There’s one decal for every trophy in the game, which when earned are automatically added to your car when you race, giving you bragging rights online.
Season mode is the game’s single-player career, which is split into twelve episodes, making up one season (get it?) of the TV show Split/Second. In order to proceed to the next episode, you must acquire enough credits (the higher your position in each event, the more credits you earn) to unlock and get on the podium in the Elite Race of the current episode. And Black Rock isn’t kidding when it says “elite”, because those races are definitely the toughest in the game.
As well as the standard Race and Elimination events, there’s also Detonator, Survivor, Air Strike and Air Revenge. Detonator is Split/Second’s take on a time trial, but the twist is that the track’s Power Plays are automatically set off as you approach. In Survivor, you are joined by an army of trucks, and have to overtake as many as possible while they drop explosive barrels behind them. Air Strike is similar, but this time a helicopter shoots missiles at you, whereas Air Revenge turns the tables, allowing you to fire missiles back at the chopper.
Like the Burnout series, all of the vehicles in Split/Second are entirely fictional (the ridiculous levels of destruction would make it impossible to get the licenses to use real cars), but petrolheads will easily notice inspiration from the likes of Dodge, Lamborghini and Ferrari. Needless to say, all the vehicles look great. The lighting is also top-notch, and the way the cars glisten in the sun is fantastic. They also all feel completely different, from heavy 4x4s, to speedy super cars.
The environments are just as diverse. Most tracks are set in the inner-city, but you’ll also visit other areas such as the power plant, the dam, and the canyon. Regardless of where you are, the visuals are always stunning and the Power Plays are often mind-blowing. Certain tracks are even played at night, which look just as good as the day events.
In fact, presentation-wise, the game is virtually faultless. Load times are fast, and there’s no slowdown to speak of, a huge achievement considering the chaos on screen at any one moment. The art style and graphics are excellent, and we have no qualms with saying that this is the best-looking arcade racer we’ve ever played. When zooming past buildings with dirt flicking up at the screen, it’s easy to imagine just how good this game would look in 3D.
Unfortunately, what isn’t quite as impressive is the game’s original soundtrack, which fits the action feel of the game well, but there isn’t enough variation and it gets repetitive pretty quickly. Having said that, it’s worth keeping the sound up simply because the car engines, explosions and crashes all sound awesome, and you’ll finally have a justifiable reason for why you forked out on that home cinema surround sound system.
Nowadays, most games live or die by their online multiplayer, and thankfully, Split/Second’s 8-player online component is just as fun to play as the single-player. Race, Survival and Elimination events are all available to play in both public and private matches, with a decent invite system incorporated. At the time of writing, the lobbies are well-populated, and we had no trouble getting a game – we’ll just have to wait and see if this is still the case in a few months’ time.
Once in a race, there is little to no lag, so any of your frustration will be due to your opponents’ driving skills, and not their internet connections. The ultimate goal of playing online is to get your racing number from 99 to 1. This will no doubt be a big challenge for some gamers, as getting a podium finish lowers your number, but anything else raises it, often resulting (for us at least) in a torrent of swears.
Something else that may be an issue for certain players is that you can only use vehicles online if you have already unlocked them in Season mode, so it’s probably best to spend a few hours in the single-player before venturing online. The game also boasts a two-player split screen mode, which works very well, and allows you to play all the same event types as online (Detonator, Air Strike and Air Revenge are solo modes that are only available in Season and Quick Play).
Split/Second: Velocity is a powerhouse of a game, with gorgeous graphics, addictive gameplay, and most importantly, massive explosions. The single-player campaign is split into 72 events that should keep you busy for at least 10-15 hours, not to mention the online and split-screen multiplayer modes. The often unrelenting difficulty can get a little annoying at times, and the core gameplay could get repetitive after a while, but overall this is a quality title that deserves to be on the shelf of any racing or action game fan.