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Split Second: Velocity

15:4327/05/2010Posted by Simeon PaskellOne Comment

It’s a great time to be a fan of arcade racers with not one, but two massively hyped titles about to go head-to-head – namely Bizarre Creations’ Blur and Blackrock Studios’ Split Second: Velocity. While we’re still waiting to get our hands on the former, we’ve rinsed Split Second’s explosive action through our home cinema systems…and have the scorch marks to prove it.

It has long been a dilemma for racing fans as to where the racing genre could go next. The likes of Gran Turismo and Forza have nailed the more hardcore market, Project Gotham strikes a satisfying balance between this and the arcades, and the blue skies of Outrun actually bring the arcade in to your living room. To put it bluntly – there isn’t much to do with car that hasn’t already been done; which is why (in a move of some genius) Blackrock Studios have shifted focus away from the vehicles and on to the environments. That’s not to say that the cars featured in Split Seconds aren’t lovingly designed, hulking speed machines, but the differentiator – the magic touch – are the environments.

Split Second is based on a fictional television show (called Split Second, unsurprisingly) in which the race tracks are actually sets that have been rigged to blow, with the detonators wired directly to the finger-tips of the racers, ready to blast their opponents out of existence. It’s a simple concept, but even on paper it is an incredibly tantalising one that sets the imagination on fire. That Blackrock must have had a hard time restraining their ideas in order to fit the game onto current consoles is a given – luckily the ideas that they’ve been able to bring to our screens are always explosive and frequently astounding.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. It’s all well and good having a clever idea around which to build your racer, but if the engine under the hood isn’t up to scratch, it is a wasted effort, doomed to be dismissed as a gimmick. Though the driving mechanics in Split Second are unlikely to impress the hardened Gran Turismo fan looking for a realistic drive, as far as arcade racers go, Blackrock have pretty much nailed it. Power-sliding around corners is reminiscent of Namco’s classic Ridge Racer series but the handling still feels very much like its own beast. The crash barriers at the side of the track may be extremely forgiving (it’s possible to pinball your way around the track – something that we spent much of time doing while learning the ropes), but it is still essential that you master juggling the braking and throttling required to skim around corners if you want to snag first place. In short, controlling any of the 30 cars available feels tight, responsive, approachable and (most importantly) has the snappiness that is so essential in an arcade racer of this type.

So, now the cars and controls are in place, it’s time to take them out onto the tracks, and it’s here that you’ll find your eyebrows rising (or, quite possibly, being singed off). Split Second features twelve tracks set within five environments that range from an aeroplane graveyard to an airport, industrial area and dust canyon. Initially, the most striking thing about the tracks – and the game in general – is how good they look. Watching the game in action, its hard not to shake the feeling that this is the game that all those next-gen concept videos promised us before the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3 were released. Textures are crisp, colours vivid and it all runs at a remarkably smooth frame rate (even in split screen). The game also chucks around all manner of effects and post-processing, from volumetric smoke, motion blur and particles. If Blackrock’s previous title, quadbike racer Pure, staked a claim for the studio being one of the leading lights in videogame racers in terms of visuals, Split Second cements it. It really looks that good.

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