Split/Second: Velocity

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Games are constantly evolving and developers are redefining genres to appeal to an ever-growing audience with an diminishing attention span. Shooters are a prime example of this evolution, and almost all shooting games now feature deep and reward-based multiplayer components to keep players hooked. In all of this, the racing genre seems to have remained somewhat stagnant. But a slew of new racers are aiming to change that, and Split/Second: Velocity from Blackrock, the makers of the critically acclaimed Pure, are at the forefront of this change.

Split/Second is best described as an arcade combat racer, although you won’t see power ups and weapons for your car to use. Instead, the game relies on powerplays in the form of triggerable environmental destruction to help the player tilt the race in his/her favor. The main game mode is the career, which is designed like one season of a reality TV show. This season comprises 12 components, or episodes, each with six events within them. So with 72 events to compete in, the career is reasonably long.

Events are of six types, namely Race – lapped races against the AI, Eliminator – where the last placed car is eliminated at regular intervals, Survival – where you must overtake trucks that drop exploding barrels in your path, Dominator – a time trial where the environment is your enemy, Air Attack – you against a chopper that launches missiles onto the track to take you out, and Air Revenge – where you can deflect missiles back to the chopper to blow it out of the sky.

You won’t find real world cars in Split/Second. Instead, the cars here look more like Matchbox scale cars with their large tires and low profile. However, you will see obvious inspirations from real world cars like the Ford GT. Vehicle handling isn’t as easy as, say, a Burnout, but it’s still very arcadey and responsive, thereby allowing you to pay attention to the environment around you rather than worrying about how you’re going to negotiate the next corner. Vehicles fall under three categories – sports, muscle, and SUV. Each category excels in certain driving attributes such as speed, acceleration, drift, and strength, so you’ll need to pick your car depending on the event type you’re participating in.

The standout feature, and one that is fairly unique to this game, is the powerplays. Various areas on and around the track, be it structures like walls and bridges or buses and petrol stations, are rigged to blow. Driving skillfully, namely drifting, drafting and jumps, fills up your powerplay meter, which is divided into three parts. Fill up one or two parts, and you will earn the ability to trigger level 1 powerplays, of which there are many around the track. When you have a powerplay available, a powerplay icon shows up over enemy cars when they are in the vicinity of a powerplay attack. Time it right and you can take out one or more enemies to gain an advantage. Besides blowing stuff up to take out enemies, level 1 powerplays are also used to open up short cuts.
Level 2 powerplays are only available to you when you fill up all three parts of the powerplay meter. Each track only has two level 2 powerplays, but the destructive power and scale of these powerplays is astonishing. Level 2 powerplays can either cause widespread devastation, thereby taking out multiple enemies, or drastically alter the layout of the track. Imagine having the ability to make a massive commercial jet plane crash land onto the track with parts coming loose and flying across the track as cars approach it head-on, or making a ship crash onto the docks, blocking the track in the process, but creating an alternate route on the deck of the ship itself. Level 2 powerplays are game changers. The first time you see one happening before you, it’s an overwhelming experience and these powerplays are easily the highlight of the game.

But while the powerplays are Split/Second’s standout feature, they also expose the game’s biggest drawback, and that is the lack of replay value. There are only 11 environments in the game, and although each features multiple layouts, the powerplays remain the same. So after a while, you’ll be able to memorize the locations of the powerplays, thereby taking away the element of surprise. The lack of environments is made very apparent in the second half of the career, where repetition sets in once you’ve seen all the environments and powerplays. Having said that, the game’s presentation, visuals, and AI go a long way towards making the game enjoyable even once you’re seen all the environments.

Apart from the career, there’s also two-player splitscreen as well as online racing for up to eight players. The structure is fairly generic and there isn’t much depth in the online multiplayer. There are no unlockables and no perks; just a very basic leveling system. Still, the combination of powerplays and a field full of human opponents is a potent one, and online multiplayer, as barebones as it may be, is the best way to experience Split/Second. In single-player, the powerplays tend to skew races in your favor, but online, everyone is just as adept at using powerplays as you are, and that will keep you on your toes every inch of the way.

Split/Second is quite an impressive visual showcase. The racing is chaotic and explosive, but even with so much happening around you, there’s never a drop in frame rates. The environments are painstakingly created and it makes triggering powerplays and watching them unfold in front of you feel all the more rewarding. The reality TV show fits the game well, and thankfully they didn’t overdo it by featuring characters and a story line.

Split/Second is a commendable effort from Blackrock, who would have surely been under pressure to top their previous effort – Pure. The implementation of powerplays is spot on, and the core gameplay is accessible without being too easy. The game is best played in multiplayer where everyone can take advantage of the powerplays, but there’s not enough depth to the online multiplayer to make you keep playing. In the career, repetition soon sets in as you race through the same, limited set of environments again and again. So while the content that is there is fantastic, there just isn’t enough of it. There’s quality here, but not enough quantity, so enjoy it while it lasts, because it won’t last very long.

Split/Second: Velocity is now available for the PS3 (Rs 2,499), Xbox360 (Rs 2,499) and PC (Rs 999).