Split/Second: Velocity challenges arcade racing legends such as Burnout and comes close to taking the crown.
This arcade racer with heavy influence from blockbuster popcorn flicks has almost as much of a kart racer feel to it as it does anything else.
Developer Black Rock Studio has done a good job of creating "wow" moments throughout the game, but it might have spent just a little too much time on those moments and not enough on core gameplay elements.
The game is set up as a TV show, with each driver a contestant on the show, driving in "episodes" and trying to survive to the next round. Each episode consists of several styles of races: racing, elimination, survival and so forth. Each different style has its own structure, but the goal is always the same: finish first.
The developers did a fantastic job of creating an epic film and television feel, and this feeling is one of the best things that Split/Second does right. During each race, players have the opportunity to build up power through drifting, drafting, jumping and more. After enough has been gained, this power can be unleashed on the environment itself, creating some of the most amazing explosions and effects ever seen in a racing game. Airplanes crash on the course, power plant cooling towers erupt, entire buildings are reduced to rubble, helicopters drop tanks on top of racers, and more.
Players have the option to use any power in two levels: quick and small explosions focused on one or two enemy racers or much larger explosions that often affect the entire track. The latter takes much longer to trigger in each race, but it often will open up shortcuts and can turn the tide of the race.
These moments do create some of the most fun experiences, but that feeling is often taken away by several frustrating gameplay elements. The first is a double-edged sword: the user interface. Unlike many other racers, there isn't a true heads-up display on the screen in Split/Second.
This works great when it's just you racing the clock or maintaining first because the necessary information is displayed on the rear bumper of the car. However, when you get in a thick pack of cars, the game displays each name of the car in front of you directly on top of that car in huge lettering. This makes it almost impossible to see anything in a group of many cars, often leading to frustrating crashes.
The second and most troublesome con to this game is the AI. Rubberband AI, or the ability to have enemies catch up easily, is nothing new to the realm of arcade racers; practically every predecessor to Split/Second uses it. But in this game it is poorly implemented and just leads to controller-smashing levels of frustration. In almost every race, you are either barely scraping by with a win or hopelessly outmatched and destined for third or fourth.
This also affects the explosions created by the player throughout the race. After you've played the game for a little while, it becomes evident that these epic environmental explosions have little effect on the outcome of the race itself and are there mainly for visual intensity.
On a race of three laps, players can spend the entire first two laps wiping out the competition with dozens of explosions only to be overtaken in the last turn of lap three by a single explosion from the enemy.
Ultimately, Split/Second is a good racer. It has a lot of fun and different aspects to it but is flawed by bad AI, which takes away from the entire experience. It is a great game played in single player for short spurts or with friends sitting on the couch.