Although it is so far beyond dumb that you do tend to wonder if it wasn’t made by a bunch of sugar-rushing 12 year-olds, Split Second: Velocity is far from mindless. The way that it exploits its core mechanic (namely the deployment of the explosive ‘power plays’) involves no small amount of strategy, and for all its breathtaking, dunder-headed spectacle (although already a tired analogy, the ‘Burnout by way of Michael Bay’ breakdown really fits) it is a game that has been masterminded with a great deal of perception and patience.
And patience is going to come in handy if you want to get the very best out of it. If you’re the kind of player who won’t rest until you’ve aced every race before you progress further, you’re going to get very frustrated extremely quickly. Cars are unlocked slowly, but going for first place(s) in even the earliest of events is going to require the vehicles that get unlocked much later on. This sets up a learning curve that is undoubtedly a little less forgiving than many people have become accustomed to recently, but it accentuates the brilliant risk/reward aspect of the gameplay, and the fact that the whole thing isn’t an airy cakewalk comes as a hugely welcome breath of fresh air.
And though many will be drawn toward Split Second: Velocity because of its stunning (and frequently hilarious) visual pyrotechnics, it is definitely a bona fide racing game at heart. The AI of your opponents is stellar to be sure, but this isn’t Mario Kart; using your power plays has to be applied as part of a master plan, and without racing chops you aren’t going to place anywhere higher than fourth at very best. Although it’s possible (with the red level two power plays) to decimate your entire opposition in one hit, if you can’t back it up with driving smarts, you’ll fall behind before you’ll have enough time to fill your power meter again and re-strategise.
This meter is filled by by drifting, drafting and scoring airtime, and although the lack of a boost button commendably sets this apart from Burnout (to which it owes an obvious aesthetic debt) it takes a good few rounds to feel comfortable with it not being there. Learning when exactly to use your power plays involves a bit of trial and error too; stock them up and leave it too late before triggering them and you’re frequently out-raced in the dying minutes; use them early and panic will cause you to drive recklessly in order to earn some more, by which point you’re once again eating at least one other’s driver’s contentious dust.
Structured around a fictional TV show (thankfully, cutscenes are kept to an admirable minimum) the game rewards you with credits for every successful event that you partake in, and these credits unlock other courses, cars and events. It’s a perfectly simple scheme, and in addition, a choice few other extras are unlocked by wrecking a specific number of opponents per event. The controls of every car are tight but they aren’t particularly straightforward, and rather than tapping the brakes as you head into a sharp corner to instigate a drift, you’ll also need to use the accelerator in tandem with it if you want to avoid slamming into a wall or flying off course. Master it however, and the thrills simply do not cease.
Your wheels are already turning as each race or event begins, and like the clean and efficient menu system (and the dearth of intrusive cinematics) developer Black Rock Studios never once put themselves between you and the action. Load times are fast, the disc is content-heavy, and there is a surprising amount of variety to be found. Alongside races, you’ll take part in Elimination games (last place is ejected every thirty seconds until one racer remains) Detonator rounds (in which you’re on your own and power plays are triggered automatically) Air Strike (in which you dodge explosives dropped by a hovering helicopter) and Survival mode, which is arguably the best of the bunch.
Survival has clearly been inspired by the classic motorcycle chase from Terminator 2, and you’re tasked with passing as many giant big-rig trucks as you can before the time runs out. Like everything else in the game it’s as daft as a brush, but to say that it delivers a fruitful burst of sheer excitement would be a heinous understatement. Online modes are simple extensions of the ones you’ll find in the single-player campaign, but they are all as terribly addictive and gratifying as you’d hope. Split Second: Velocity may be dumb, but it sure isn’t stupid. You may go in wanting some cheap thrills, and you’ll get them. But it delivers so much more than that.
Watch the Split Second: Velocity trailer here…