First Exams
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Split Second – Hands On Preview

Split Second is a game I had been keen to try out since it’s first announcement and it wound up being the first game I got hands on with at last weeks Eurogamer Expo. Black Rock Studios, the developers behind it have a pedigree in racing games. Formally Climax Racing studios, having changed name after their acquisition by Disney, they followed up two current-gen iterations of the MotoGP franchise with last years Pure. Well received critically, Pure saw the team go back to their off-road roots combining quad biking with a decent trick system. Despite being a very solid and fun game, it somehow seemed to slip quietly under the radar.  Their second Disney effort, Split Second is anything but quiet, it’s about spectacle.

Split Second Xbox360/PS3

The core premise of Split Second is a competitive reality game show set in made for TV city. Bored of formulaic track racing, the producers idea to spice up the action is to allow the drivers to trigger Michael Bay style “explosive events” called powerplays. Similar to Burnout, the player acquires these by driving stylishly (i.e. drifting, slip-streaming & air) and thus building up a power bar, which then allows them to trigger some Hollywood style explosions, at a moment of their choosing in an attempt to interfere with the other cars. These can range from blowing up petrol tanks and helicopters dropping bombs on the track all the way up to collapsing buildings onto the road, altering it permanently.

“We’re all fans of street racing here, but as a genre it is relatively stale – the evolution is only coming from how you customise cars, which can only serve to remove you from the action – I think Split/Second will do the opposite.”

Nick Baynes, Black Rock Studios

In one way, the set up is analogous to the studio’s misgivings about the racing genre these days. Sensibly however, they’ve not thrown out the stuff that worked. Black Rock have taken elements from games such as Burnout & Mario Kart but after applying their particular twist to it, focused on making it look and play fantastically. Like Pure, the game is simple to pick up and play but offers plenty of subtle nuances once you get into it. Cars feel satisfying to steer sideways round the track without feeling too arcadey and in the one track demo available on the show floor, the AI didn’t come across as cheap. On record as detractors of rubber-banding, the powerplay elements balance well. The power bar has three segments meaning the player can either keep or use up to two “normal” powerplays or save it up to unleash a “super powerplay” on a much larger scale of destruction. The playing field is completely level. All drivers have the same opportunities to acquire powerplays, no overpowered items going to those bringing up the rear.

That’s not to say a well timed play by a car at the back can’t win them the race. The large power plays can bring entire buildings down onto the track or open up entire new sections yielding a shortcut that can either be temporary or permanent. In one playthrough of the demo, triggering a super powerplay in the final stages of the race brought a control tower crashing down onto the track opening up a short cut route through some hangers on to the final straight. Whether the huge plane crashing on to the runway in front of me as I hared towards the finish line was another power play by the cars I’d just overtaken or not was hard to say but with all of them, if your reactions are quick enough you can get out of the way. I managed it, just, scraping over the line amongst the smoke and fire. Very Hollywood.

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Indeed, Hollywood is a big inspiration of the game. The developers use similar deferred rendering techniques as found in Killzone 2 to good effect, giving the game a very filmic saturated look. There is generous amounts of motion blur to go with it but it’s not overdone and the overall result is very effective, especially considering the amount of destruction and explosions going on. My only disappointment was that I couldn’t check out the audio which is a shame as the Hollywood blockbuster influence is said to apply to the soundtrack also. One very nice touch was the HUD, dynamically attached to the back of your car. It can look a little odd in some screenshots but works nicely when the game is in motion meaning your eyes are never taken away from the action in the centre of the screen.

Early indications are positive then. Each one of my four playthroughs was different from the last and the guy next to me deferred his filming for that “just one more go”. A release date isn’t yet known though it is set to release in an increasingly crowed first quarter of next year. We’ll hope that doesn’t put it on a collision course with a certain Gran Turismo 5 as it would do Split Second a disservice. The game demoed excellently on the show floor so a chance to preview the game prior to it’s release should be a no-brainer.

3 comments
Phaethon
Phaethon

Even though I didn't buy Pure (I only buy like 3 racing games a generation), I saw how great the design principles were. The game played like a more tightened and varied Motorstorm. I'm really looking forward to seeing what they can do with such a high octane concept.

deftangel
deftangel

Incidentally, I was going to mention this in the post but I'm looking forward to this a lot more than Blur from Bizarre, and I love PGR. The concept for that doesn't grab me all that much.

GriftGFX
GriftGFX

This game looks so good.