The Fishtank: My Favourite Games, Part XIV: Split/Second: Velocity

Don’t let the horrible use of punctuation in the title fool you, Split/Second: Velocity (just Split/Second in the US) is one of the best racing games of the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation, and one of my favourite video games. Developed by Black Rock Studio, a now defunct team under the Disney Interactive Studios umbrella, Split/Second: Velocity was released in 2010.

The single player ‘Season’ mode was presented as a weekly TV series on BRTV (presumably Black Rock, after the developers) not unlike the Death Race film franchise. Each of the dozen episodes featured six events, which players would need to win to earn credits, which unlocked new cars. It was a simple formula, but no two events were ever the same, and the different top speed, toughness, and drift ability of each vehicle would make or break a run, though it was never impossible to win with any car if you were good enough. All of the cars were from one of three completely made up makes: “Ryback” which are the bulky, American muscle cars and trucks; “Cobretti”, the ambiguously European sports cars akin to Ferrari and Lamborghini, and; “Hanzo”, the Mazda, Honda, Nissan style cars from the Japanese underground scene.

The main hook of the game came from the use of Power Plays, whereby players could fill a meter by drifting, drafting or jumping, which when full could cause mayhem and destruction for the cars in front. Imagine Mario Kart, but instead of green shells, you launch C4-filled taxis at the racer in front; instead of red shells, a construction truck hanging from the bottom of a helicopter comes swinging at you; and, instead of blue shells, you crash a jumbo jet onto the runway in front of your opponents. The idea that almost anything in the scenery around you could destroy you at any time meant you had to pay attention whenever you were anywhere other than last, and the thrill and panic of driving down a runway, coming first on the final lap, only to see a plane coming at you never goes away.

When the meter was completely filled, Power Plays could also be used to drastically alter the route of the race; while the first lap may take you along the outside of a dam, if something explosive were to happen to said dam, then all following laps would be through a series of tunnels underneath or across flooding rubble and debris. Every Power Play had an impressive, guttural sound design, and those bigger moments had that ultra satisfying ‘air gets sucked out of the room’ effect before the explosion rumbled.

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The racing itself is relatively standard for an arcade racer, with controls comparable to any Burnout or Need for Speed game. However, the difference in presentation comes from there being no on-screen speedometer, car health, or race map – because you are always going full speed, any justifiable crashes/Power Plays will destroy your car, and there is no guarantee the route will stay the same between laps. There is a Burnout-style ‘crash cam’ which shows when you cause an opponent to crash, and the bigger environmental explosions or route changes have a fun little ‘Instant Replay’ feature to really show the city-wide devestation you can cause.

Outside of just races, the different game modes included more unique events: Air Strike (dodging missiles from a military attack helicopter chasing you around the course); Eliminator (whoever is in last position at each interval is eliminated); Survival (attempting to overtake semi-trailers which are dropping explosive barrels), and; Detonator (a single timed lap with all of the Power Plays going off in front of you). These all kept things fresh, and granted the credits in the single player Season mode to earn better cars. Best of all, each of these sans Detonator were also available in full split-screen multiplayer, which is how I first came to love the game. The above caption to the plane image was a direct quote from my gaming partner the first time we (unknowingly) crashed a jumbo jet onto ourselves.

Unfortunately, the story mode ends on a huge cliffhanger, which will never be resolved. Disney dissolved Black Rock Studio soon after the game was released, despite an overall positive critical and commercial response. The final screen of ‘To Be Continued…’ will forever be one of my biggest gaming mysteries. Former Black Rock Studio developers did go on to make Detonation Racing for the iPhone App Store (though apparently not for release in Australia?), but we all know that’s just not the same. A sequel was announced for Dragon’s Dogma (another favourite game of mine) earlier this year, so for now I continue to live in hope that one day Split/Second will receive the props it deserves, and I can drop another apartment block on any racer foolish enough to overtake me.

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