Split/Second: Velocity – First Look

Title   Split/Second: Velocity
Developer  Black Rock Studio
Publisher  Disney Interactive Studios
Platform  Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre  Arcade Racing, Driving
Release Date  May 21st 2010

There are a lot of driving and racing games released every year, and sometimes it can be difficult to know which ones are worth playing or not from an over-populated market. They tend to be divided into two camps; those that aim for ever greater degrees of realism in terms of handling and physics, and those that take the route of arcade style racing and ridiculously overblown stunts.

Intense realism abounds, even without endorsed vehicles

Split/Second definitely falls more into the latter of the two divisions. There are no licensed cars at all, which is handy in that performance of each vehicle can be made up to suit what the developer wants to do, similar to the Burnout series. You could also take the more cynical view that it makes production cheaper without those hefty real-world manufacturers’ fees, but that’s not always such a bad thing, with the developer able to concentrate resources on other areas. Certainly it never hurt Burnout, and there are countless other games around that let you fulfil the fantasy of crashing a top of the range Aston Martin or Ferrari at nearly 200mph.

The game comprises of several event modes, playable online as well as off in most cases, and a season play campaign that is styled around the structure of an extreme racing tournament and reality TV show. If you try to picture how Top Gear might look if Jeremy Clarkson seized control of touring car racing and had access to billions of pounds, a couple thousand tonnes of explosives, and a cloning vat that could pump out a new Stig every 3 seconds you’d still be underestimating just how overblown and over the top the action of Split/Second is.

The basic racing mode of the game is where most players will likely be spending the bulk of their time. As with most games in the genre, you choose a car to suit the track and level of competition, and race against up to 7 opponents, either computer controlled or via the internet. There is also the traditional split-screen offline 2 player option. Where it gets interesting however is with the inclusion of power plays; events dotted about the track that can be triggered by each racer in an attempt to slow down or crash the cars in front. These range from the relatively simple, such as exploding barrels and trucks at the side of the road, to the spectacularly destructive. It is a viable option in Split/Second to drop a military transport aircraft on top of your fellow racers. Or maybe you’d prefer to drop a skyscraper? Or crash a ferry into the course and alter the route completely. There is a wonderful variety of fantastic looking set-pieces specific to each track that can be set off if you save up power play energy until the meter is full. Many of these not only wipe out anyone who is unfortunate enough to get in the way of their destructive power, but also fundamentally alter the track so that it’s almost like switching to a different race mid-lap. Using these power plays it is possible to leap from the back of the pack to winning a race at the last gasp, which has the potential to be deeply frustrating if someone else does it to you on a par with the much-reviled blue shell in Mario Kart; though for the most part, at least for as long as novelty plays a part in proceedings, you cannot help but be amused by it and laugh it off by virtue of just how grandiose and incredible the set pieces are.

Elimination is similar to the standard racing, except that a timer is continuously counting down, with the last car on the track being permanently removed each time the counter reaches zero. Even more so than in race mode, power plays represent a tactical challenge, as you have to remove players in front of you in such a way that they are still behind you where the time expires, preventing them from simply reciprocating with a power play of their own that unceremoniously dumps you out of the event. Power play energy is charged by drafting behind cars in front, drifting around corners, and narrowly surviving power plays that explode around you, and as drafting is the quickest way to fill the meter this can leave you in a sticky situation if you lead the pack for the majority of the event and then suddenly find yourself dropped to the back by someone else’s power play just as time is about to run out.

Survival mode also features a time limit, but this time you are confronted by dumper trucks hurtling around the track with you, spewing out explosive barrels from their rear ends. As you’re given only three lives to complete the event this time around, avoiding the barrels is a pretty good idea, with the blue barrels slowly building up damage to your vehicle until it flies apart and red barrels obliterating you in a single strike. By passing the deadly dustbin men’s trucks you receive a small extension to the time limit; when the time expires however it becomes sudden-death, with even the more prolific blue barrels destroying you in one go and your lives reduced to one regardless of whether you’d avoided losing any to that point.

Detonator events have you race solo around a given track in an attempt to beat the course in a faster time than that previously set by the computer. Unlike other time trials in other racing games, however, detonator trials set off each of the power play set pieces directly in front of you in sequence; you know they’re going to go off and there’s no other on-track opponent to retaliate against, leaving you forced to deal with each power play in such a way that you not only survive but get around the lap as quickly as possible. Some of the times that you’re asked to beat are damned near impossible too, so a single lost second can lose you the course.

Air strike and air revenge modes see you racing alone around a track shadowed by a military gunship helicopter. He’s not there sight-seeing either, and unlike the stunt in Top Gear, these choppers are firing live ammo at you. You get old-fashioned points for avoiding the missiles, a bonus for surviving an entire wave of attacks without taking so much as a scratch, and the player with the highest score at the end of it all wins. As with survival mode, you only start out with three lives to try and do this in, and that helicopter is pretty bloody accurate in placing its shots, making it vital to choose a car that may not necessarily be the fastest, but that is very manoeuvrable in order to dodge your way around each salvo. Air revenge mixes it all up by allowing you to charge up power play energy in order to send the missiles back at the helicopter, with the objective being to not only take the gunship out before it takes you out, but to try and do so in a faster time than the other competitors.

Single race, elimination and survivor modes are all available to play online, and technically the game does a solid job of minimising lag. Unfortunately, what it does not do is fairly match up players, with low-level cars being stacked up against much more highly rated ones. This is especially a problem for new players who don’t cheat and purchase the “Time Savers Pack” DLC, or as I prefer to think of it, the “Cheating Lazy Bastards Pack”, which unlocks all of the cars without having to play through the single player season. Newbies will often find their first ever race online pitching them against someone with the fastest car in the game, and a significantly higher rank. There’s no way around this other than exclusively playing invite-only games with people on your friend list who are willing to play fairly, with no ability to set restrictions over public events. This is unfortunate, and mars what is one of the best online racing experiences around, with setting off a devastating power play being all the more satisfying accompanied by the howls of the player you just took out over your headset.

Graphically the game is stunning. There is simply no other word to describe it. Each track, car, and explosion is rendered in seamless high resolution, and the frame rate never seems to slow no matter how many explosions are going off; a cannily employed “bullet-time” slow motion blur that takes effect whenever a particularly massive set piece is triggered is a clever way of obviating potential unwanted frame rate issues. There’s also no unwieldy HUD with maps and monitors getting in the way of all the action; in a brilliant bit of minimalist visual design, the HUD is limited to your position in the race, your power play meter, and the lap number, all of which is situated behind and directly below your car, and which moves across the screen in time with it. Sadly the game does occasionally suffer from clipping issues, with it being possible to be forced outside of the boundaries of the track by the shockwave of a power play, and there being no way to get back onto it without restarting the event or deliberately crashing. This is particularly frustrating when it happens in detonator events, as it ruins your time or in races where you’re leading. Fortunately it doesn’t happen often, but the occasions where it does effectively ruin your game.

An area where the game does disappoint somewhat is the music. Rather than featuring the wide-ranging track lists filled with licensed songs that games like Burnout and Need for Speed feature, Split/Second’s soundtrack consists of all-original music. It’s not bad music, but it is repetitive, and will start to get on your nerves after prolonged play. It’s unfortunate really, as whilst you avoid some of the more nerve-grating pop monstrosities that make it into other examples of the genre (Avril Lavigne’s pained high-pitch warbling in the soundtrack for Burnout Paradise springs to mind), you’re eventually driven to distraction by the game’s theme which flares up whenever the action gets especially dramatic.

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  • Utterly gorgeous visuals
  • Inspired track design, with each unique track being just that; unique
  • Power plays introduce an innovative element of battling to the racing genre, without resorting to the Mario Kart/Blur caveat of arming the racers with actual weapons
  • Some of the most exciting action set pieces in any game of any genre
  • Virtually lag-free online racing
  • You get to drop a military transport plane on your friends
  • Occasionally buggy scenery that allows you to exit the boundaries of the course, but not get back in
  • Repetitive soundtrack
  • Incredibly lazy and unfair online match-making
  • DLC that allows you to cheat your way not only through the game, but online as well
  • A somewhat lacklustre selection of cars
  • The only way to play on PC is via the Steam or Gamesplanet downloadable services, with no physical retail release on the platform

Split/Second: Velocity has its share of minor flaws, but it’s probably the most fun and exciting racing game currently available. It’s better looking and much more innovative in its gameplay than its immediate rivals in Burnout and fellow new release Blur, and whilst players seeking hyper-realistic physics and replications of existing cars may find themselves wanting, there’s a huge amount of silly and overblown fun packed in here.

If you like your explosions super-sized and your racing fast and furious,Split/Second may just be the best arcade racer out in 2010.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Pete says:

    hmmmmm….. I like the sound of all that :) Nice write Preacher!

    I’m going to be very late to that party though lol

    Burnout Paradise anyone? :D

  2. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    Really enjoyed this review, it’s NOT what I expected SS:V to be… and I’m impressed. Not THAT big on racing games, played the Gotham series, Burnout Paradise, NFS Most Wanted and another weird one on the original XBox that I can’t remember but you had to get to the gold by driving various vehicles through a city under a time limit… wasn’t very good. This looks good though, and I love how they mix it up with the choppers etc. I think I’ll also be quite late to the party though, as I’ve still got RDR to finish and I think I’m going to end up giving Alan Wake a go too.

    Great read though dood, really captured it

  3. Lee says:

    Godd read preach – That DLC they did has annoyed the hell out of me too online, i’ve also found that the AI on single has a bit of a rubber band effect you can be miles infront when out of nowhere an AI flicks past you at high speed, normally near the end of a track

  4. Rook says:

    Not usually one for reading reviews but wanted to check this out as I’ve recently finished the single player and jsut going back to mop up a few requried first places and only dabbled with the online. Having spent alot of time playing this game, I can say your review is prety much spot on Preacher. Although, I haven’t suffered any of the clipping issues you mention, and only during one race did I see a bit of pixelation to a bridge in the distance.

    The time trial limits are devilish hard, I’ve beaten one with only 0.02 of a second ahead of the target time, so the title Split Second is very apt and usually I don;t bother with time trial events in racing games. Can’t say I’ve really heard the soundtrack, at least nothing memorable comes to mind about it.

    The cars handle the road fine and slow into corner/accelerate out works well, I’ve just not really found any of the cars to have great drift, perhaps I’m spoiled by the drifting in Ridge Racer 6 and Burnout Paradise. The Route Changers work well, I recall one Airport Terminal race that had 3 laps and the course was different for ach lap because the AI had set off Route Changers, I’m sure there’s some I haven’t seen as well.

  5. Richie richie says:

    Enjoyed the review but the demo of this thing put me off.

    I liked the ideas, and it was pretty slick, but hated the handling.

  6. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Thanks, guys, appreciate the comments; sorry I didn’t reply sooner but I was without internet most of Friday and Saturday whilst travelling to/attending the MCM.

    I’m currently using a mobile internet connection too, with dodgy signal, so I’ll reply to each of you next week when I’m back home… just wanted to let you know that I’m not being ignorant, heh.

  7. Lorna Lorna says:

    A good read – the game certainly looks interesting, if not stunning. I’m not really one for racing games but when they try something a little different, such as with Burnout Paradise, they catch my eye. Maybe when the price drops, I’ll pick it up. Love the idea of altering the track.

  8. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Well, I’m back home, and as promised, follow up comments abound!

    @Pete – Thanks, and if you do get it, let me know; I owe you for all those times you beat me in Burnout Paradise, heh.

    @Mark – I didn’t expect the game to be as good as it was either. It came as quite a big surprise to me, as until I was offered the review I had fully intended to pass the game over in favour of other larger releases out the same time. I think there’s even a post on our forum to that effect. Again, when you get it, give me a call, and we can get something going online similar to the old Burnout sessions.

    @Lee – I hadn’t noticed the rubber band effect too much, though I think that’s something you probably get with all racing games except for Forza and Gran Turismo – the two über realistic franchises in the genre. That DLC is a massive source of frustration and anger in online matches, as some complete newbies who crash on every corner can blow past you again on the straights by having bought the DLC and driving in the fastest car. Fucking irritating.

    @Rook – Thanks, glad you liked it and agreed with my assessment; always encouraging to hear. Those time trials are a real pain in the arse sometimes… there was one where you have to use a truck-like 4×4 vehicle to get around the Airplane Graveyard track that I’ve spent hours and countless attempts at just to manage a 0.03 second victory over the target time. Which is insane, frankly.

    @Rich – It’s worth remembering that the demo comes with a basic car… the handling varies wildly depending on which vehicle you have access to. The starting vehicles have atrocious handling, but it does improve as you unlock more capable rides. It’s a shame if it put you off entirely.

    @Lorna – The track altering mechanic really does set this game apart from other racing games. It makes the game so unpredictable that the developers couldn’t utilise a mini-map, which in turn led to further simplification of the HUD, so it has a big influence on the aesthetics and design of much of the game. If you’re not convinced yet (and believe me, I know what it’s like to have to be very choosy about purchases with money being tight, hence writing off Alan Wake perhaps a little hastily), it should be just as fun, and just as unique and stand-out in the genre when the price comes down. That said, I can see other games coming along and imitating aspects of Split/Second sooner rather than later, because it does work so well. It may well be a pivotal defining moment for racing games, in the same way that the first Gran Turismo kicked off the hyper realism drive, or Need for Speed introduced body and paint customisation.

  9. The Rook says:

    @Preach – I know the track you are referring to, it was hard as hell to beat that track, you were ever so slightly quicker than me as I beat it with 0.02 of a second for victory, hence Split Second being a good title. :)

    The one through the power plant took me age to do as well, which is the last one I have done before the travelling started. I have 3 Devastor tracks to finish when I get home and that’ll be gold in all events, then it’s just online to do.

  10. Richie richie says:

    @Preach – added to my rental queue. It CAN’T be as bad as Alpha ProtocLOL right?

  11. Greg Greg says:

    I WANT THIS GAME! (as anyone who has spoken to me on LIve the last few weeks will have realised) Starting to get bored of the demo now. Damn lack of money…

    Great review tho – thoroughly enjoyed that

  12. Adam Adam says:

    Nice Review Preach.

    I gave the Demo a twirl when it was released some time ago. I wasn’t as impressed by the visuals as much as everyone (its quite probable that the demo featured lower resolution textures -someone may have to back me up on that). I could see the effect they were trying to achieve but it came across as smoke and mirrors for me, looking great at high speeds but shoddy when your just getting going.

    It’s refreshing to see a new approach taken to driving and were this in the hands of the mighty EA rather than the dwindling Sega, I think we could of looked forward to the SSX of the road with this, but of course they have Burnout and I imagine they’re much happier with that franchise than the potential on display here.

    I’d be interested to know if your still playing it and just how many more still are. I’m obviously coming back at this review quite late having only just started to play catch up with all the great reads we’ve had the last month, but Arcade Games have always struck me as pretty shallow that never warrant anything more than a rent. It’s great these days that you can play the likes of Spit/Second and SSIV online as it helps keep the game going but this is often at the expense of any ‘party play’ so if you play it for a week and love it, then stop and move on to something else, when you eventually make it back, all you can really do is go for the online side of things by which point, the casual have been bullied out by the hardcore fans who’ve spent the entire time mastering every car and exploiting the unpatched bugs. Without the Mario Kart 64 Magic, can games like this really stand the test of time?

    I also welcome SEGA going the extra mile to bring a game like this via Digital Distribution only. It’s a massive investment to produce physcial retail games that just end up sitting on shelves before being buried at the bottom of the bargain bin a month later. If it’s not a great deal more hassle to port the game over to the PC but the only thing stopping them was the marketing budget, then I’d welcome this sort of distribution every time to help keep PC games in line with the consoles.

    Seems like a great giggle, I had some fun on the demo though I soon felt like this had very little to do with my skill racing against the AI. It felt more like the AI were just there to ensure I had a good time and was able to put the detonations and stuff to good use instead of just blasting ahead of the pack like I normally do and crossing the finishing line almost a lap ahead of everyone else. Nice that they’re catering for the gamer who wants to feel like a king (YAYY) but in a predominately skill based genre, it seems quite misused

  13. Samuel The Preacher says:

    I am still playing it, on occasion. Mostly split screen multiplayer with someone in the same room.

    Also… SEGA? Who mentioned SEGA? This is published by Disney Interactive.

  14. Adam Adam says:

    Thats good that your still playing it. Thanks for responding :D

    My bad for the Sega drop in, don’t know how I made that bridge in my head. But still, the same almost applies to Disney Interactive. I can’t remember the last time they published a non Disney IP in games but still, with the right attitude and the right backing, you do have to wonder what could have been

  15. Warlord says:

    can anyone tell me where i can find split seconds soundtracks? or just even their names would help :)

  16. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Hi Warlord, I have no idea where you’d find the soundtrack outside of the actual game disk… or if you even can. The soundtrack is composed originally for the game, and I’m not sure that Disney have released it separately.

  17. [...] gathering some impressive reviews, including ours here at GamingLives, it seems that Split/Second: Velocity will be burning rubber on the PSP this [...]

  18. feeney says:

    I thought it was a really good game altough the background has pretty crapy graphics

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