Revving up Some Fun
August 13, 2009 – The automotive genre of games is certainly crowded, and its easy for new IPs to fall under the radar. If the title of a game doesn’t start with Gran Turismo, Forza, Burnout, or Need for Speed, chances are it goes by the wayside. However, there is one new automotive title that you should definitely be on the lookout for next year: Split/Second.
Split/Second is the new IP from Black Rock Studios, the folks behind last year’s Pure. Although Split/Second is its own entity, calling it a “spiritual successor” to Pure wouldn’t be too far off the mark. We recently got to spend some hands-on time with a pre-alpha build of Split/Second, and even though the build was definitely early, it looks quite promising.
If you haven’t heard of Split/Second before, the premise is simple: you play as a driver on an action reality show where you have to perform outrageous stunts to get ahead of the competition. The game encourages you to drive dangerously by speeding, successfully completing jumps, and racking up near-misses in order to unlock special moves known as “powerplays.” These powerplays trigger stunt-based events that range from a large-scale explosion to course-altering vehicle crashes.
During our hands-on time we were only able to speed around one track, which was an urban-themed dock area. This level was laid out like a freeway, with plenty of inclined banks and steep curves on the track, and there were also lots of alternate routes within the track. As we jumped in our vehicle, we got an instant feel for the controls, which have a decidedly arcade feel. The acceleration in particular was impressive, and even though my car slipped back a few places several times, the acceleration was punchy enough to carry us through our trouble spots back up to first place.
But of course, it wasn’t just the acceleration that gave us the advantage. We were able to engage several of the game’s powerplays during the race. The game’s powerplay system will definitely be the defining aspect of the title, and let me be the first to tell you that it is awesome during play. When we started losing ground to rival cars, a little notification on our HUD let us know that we were able to trigger a powerplay soon. We then approached a steep curve with lots of shipping crates. As we engaged the powerplay, one of these crates was swiftly picked up by a crane and then smashed into one side of the road. The side of the road was now completely blocked, and all the other vehicles had to take an alternate route. Although this was a bit of a strategic move, you can also trigger wild explosions near rival cars in order to get rid of the competition quickly. You can also set traps for other players and or open up shortcuts for your own personal use. Although we weren’t able to test these powerplays, the idea of adding a strategic element to the racing that isn’t solely focused on race lines or slipstreaming will be a breath of fresh air for those who have played a lot of automotive games and crave something new.
Naturally, as much as we got a thrill from attacking others, it was equally fun trying to dodge attacks that were brought upon us. The vehicles controlled by the game’s A.I. were ruthless in their assaults, and trying to drive around explosions, weave around moving obstacles, and jump over busted track was exciting indeed. This portion of the game almost had a Stuntman-like feel to it (minus the insane precision), and the easily-accessible arcade controls were a perfect fit for all the high-octane action. Though I consider myself an experienced automotive gamer, the controls had a pick-up-and-play feel that could extend Split/Second’s appeal to more casual players.
Although the build we saw was pre-alpha, I was impressed with how far along the visuals are coming. The docks track, as well as the cars racing on it, featured a great amount of detail, and everything looked very polished. Even more impressive, however, where the explosion and blast animations, which were on par with other explosion-friendly titles such as Battlefield: Bad Company. The destruction animations that went with the explosions were also very polished, and they made each powerplay that much more exciting.
We don’t know much about any other stages or modes for Split/Second beyond the standard race at the docks, but what we have seen so far is quite promising. With plenty of exiting stunts and solid arcade controls, Split/Second breathes some much-needed life into the automotive genre, without changing it too much. It doesn’t have a high-profile brand name attached to it, but it would definitely be a shame to let Split/Second fall under your radar when it releases next year.
May 13, 2009 – If this console generation has been good for one thing, it has been destruction physics. Last year’s Battlefield: Bad Company showed us what it was like to play a shooter in a completely destructible environment, and next year, Split/Second will do the same for racing. Featuring an almost completely destructible racing environment, Split/Second looks to change the way we think about destruction in racing games.
Although it may seem to be a bit of a faux paux for a racing game, but Split/Second does in fact have a story behind its outrageous premise. The game puts you in the shoes of a contestant in a speed-focused reality game show. Although the premise sounds a little like Death Race, the competitors here just look like your average street-hardened racers.
In this fictional game, players are encouraged to drive very fast and very dangerously. Once they reach a certain speed, have had plenty of near-misses, and have pulled off other tricks, they can then engage in what are known as Powerplays. This is Split/Second’s destruction element. Almost every single unit in the game’s landscape is rigged with a trap switch, or better yet, explosives that destroy the environment around them. These powerplays are the cornerstone of the gameplay in Split/Second and will govern your interactions with other players.
One very interesting element to the powerplay system is that it will be tiered. You can do a regular powerplay or what is known as a super powerplay. The difference between these two is, of course, scope. While a normal powerplay might drop an unexpected environmental element onto a track, a super powerplay will cause multiple elements to explode, leading to a chain reaction which can immobilize even the most maneuverable players.
Speaking of powerplays, Split/Second will have plenty of destructible areas to work with; from exploding highway overpasses to city busses that veer into your opponents. The magnitude of powerplay largely determines the effect, but even the smallest powerplay can be used strategically in a race. Although blowing stuff up is nice, the goal will still be to cross the finish line first, so you’ll have to keep the pyrotechnics limited to when your opponents are in range of an attack.
Even though there are plenty of strategic elements to this aspect, it doesn’t look like you will be able to lay out any elaborate pre-game traps. From early gameplay footage, it seems that you will have to engage these powerplays on the fly by pressing a singular button when you want to engage them. This quick-reaction approach allows you to use a powerplay if an enemy unexpectedly takes you over, which is great for those who aren’t as apt to strategy as others, and are more likely to play defensively. Of course, for hardcore junkies, you can time your acceleration and deceleration to optimize opponents’ damage from powerplays and even lure them into a timed trap.
As far as the actual racing mechanics go, Split/Second looks like it will be solely focused on a high-octane arcade approach to the driving. You will be able to pound the accelerator, with little regard to braking or precision driving, which will probably be a boon to the featured destructive elements of the gameplay. Cornering and acceleration will be smooth and effortless, and they’ll definitely appeal to the casual sect in this regard. Of course, the hardcore audience will probably appreciate the arcade feel of the game, as it will focus the gameplay more on strategic damage rather than drifting and precision cornering.
When this game releases early next year, comparisons to 2008’s Burnout Paradise will surely follow. While both series focus heavily on crashes and destruction, Split/Second is definitely a different breed of racer. Instead of using your car as the primary weapon, as you would in Burnout, in Split/Second you use everything else. The strategic focus on environmental damage during a race has definitely got me excited, as the automotive genre seems to have been running out of ideas as of late. Although nothing has been said about multiplayer modes or whether there will be any car customization options, it looks like Split/Second will definitely be a title to watch for next year.