Joined: 14 Oct 2002 Posts: 4121 Location: Sheffield, UK
Posted: Mon Mar 14, 2011 12:37 am Post subject: Split second
Completed Split Second the other day, didn't take long, the races form part of a 'season' where you're meant to be competing in this tense competition with only a limited number of races to get to the top of the leader board. The tension is a little spoiled by the fact you can go back and redo any race for a better score, so take your time and relax. It starts as a normal race, but as you skid round a corner or slipstream the car in front, you charge up and then spend this charge triggering explosions, building collapses, landslides - you name it. And so do all the other cars!
I've got mixed feelings about this game, it actually made me start playing Mariokart again. Both games are about taking the racing game and injecting some fun combat elements and keeping things a bit light hearted, which is a nice change for a GranTurismo fan. However, Split Second really highlights just how good Mariokart really is. Underneath the crazy courses, shells and bananas, Mariokart is a fantastically well put together racing game. Don't get me wrong, Split Second is good fun and I recommend it, especially in split screen, it just doesn't manage to be more than a tongue in cheek 30min blast.
It looks great. There are a lot of really amazing looking racing games these days, but most seem a bit serious. Split Second is easy to get into. Accelerate, break, skid and two buttons to trigger the explosive fun. No car tweaking. The lighting is very nice, reminds me of Fable, really warm and bright with great shadow and colour.
I never really got comfortable with the car handling. You can't tweak the car setup, the game rewards you with new cards every 10secs, the handling is all over the place, there wasn't an obvious one-car-wins-all, which is good. Skidding generates the charge you need to trigger explosions and is essential to get round the course, but it slows you down A LOT meaning you don't really want to do it. The front of the car is super sensitive to impact. The sides are almost indestructible. As a result its often better to just go too fast into a corner then go sideways into the wall. There is less of speed penalty for this than if you'd skidded round. If yo do have an accident, and you will a lot, you can easily go from first to last. The AI cars cheat terribly, its really obvious. They all change speed at random, I think the AI is trying to make a thrilling race and that means having cars close behind and a good supply sent up front. Its cheating to force you to use the explosions to keep in the race. I can totally understand it, but when its this obvious it ruins immersion. You approach a car on the straight, you are both flat out, you go past quite easily, ten seconds later he rockets past you - what? The AI cars are also indestructible to physical contact with your own car. Ramming or nudging means you ALWAYS lose which is a problem if the AI suddenly feels you haven't blown anyone up in a while and so the car behind suddenly doubles its speed.
There is no onscreen map to see where people are, you cannot trigger an explosion unless a car is in front, nor are there rear view mirrors. I think the developers should have played more Mariokart, they have completely compromised the game for the sake of forcing more opportunities to set off explosions just in front of your face.
The tracks look great, there is obviously a lot of work gone in to them, especially when you see all the different ways you can blow them apart. Still, it isn't dynamic, you can only trigger explosions at specific points, that control tower will always blow up. Its nice in that you can learn where the explosions are and be ready to trigger them, but it starts to feel a bit staged, I started to wish I could just blow anything and everything up. The big problem however, is that so much work went into making the tracks that they didn't have enough. Each track is reused many times, they open a gate, close a road, drop a bridge. The problem with this is that you never really learn a track properly. Its not just that the tracks are changing all the time, its the same small number of tracks getting jumbled up! Just as you start to learn the airport course they alter the airport course
Combat split screen is fun but problematic. In Mariokart everyone is constantly getting hit by something, occasionally it feels maddening, but usually its your racing skill and track knowledge that gets you a win. In Split Second if your opponent takes you out then its rare you get back in the race. Its funny to get a boulder dropped on you, but if that means you have zero chance of catching up again then its a problem.
As a diversion there are special events now and again. Sometimes you need to avoid missile strikes from an attack helicopter, sometimes you are actually trying to take out the helicopter, in others there are lorries on the track throwing explosive barrels at everyone. I found these events incredibly frustrating. Towards the end of the season you start to realise you won't have enough points and so these 'races' that you skip become unavoidable and you have to go back and complete them to crank up your score. There are events where you race on your own attempting to beat a target time, there are events that remove the last car until only one is left. These feel fresh compared to the usual races, but they still feel like racing, the helicopter and lorry events are NOT racing, they are something else. Torture?
That all sounds bad, but Split Second is a fun racing game with some jaw dropping explosions. I'm just spoiled by Mariokart. That game rewards hours and hours of play, learning the car handling, learning the tracks, working through the competitions. Split Second is just a bit of simple fun, its sacrificed almost everything to ensure you get explosions in your face every 10secs. That's fine, just don't look to deep for something more.
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