“Mario Kart, but with real cars and more explosions.”
That’s probably a good way to describe Split/Second, the upcoming racing game developed for Disney by Blackrock Studio. It’s also fitting for the developers, as they were behind one of the most under-played great games of the few years: Pure. The relationship between S/S and Pure goes further, as this game borrows heavily from the hectic and explosive nature of the former.
Split/Second‘s goal is to create a Michael Bay movie on a circular track. In fact, using “movie” to describe the game is a bit of a farce; the story (yes, there IS a story to this game) was shoe-horned into it… and it actually fits. The player stars as the driver in a futuristic stunt racing series in which survival is key. Driving fast cars with explosions occurring everywhere can be an incredible blast.
The demo I tried on Saturday had three different unnamed vehicles with minimal personalization. The tracks (there were a few available, but the representative guided me to a specific one) were varied, but all were designed around the principle that the road is secondary to the events that take place in the race. Wide tracks and minimal obstacles prevented me from inadvertently exploding my vehicle if my driving skills weren’t up to par, but the speed at which the cars moved and the constant weaving and jockeying for position was required it.
The controls weren’t as tight as Forza 3 or Gran Turismo. In fact, they mirrored Mario Kart in allowing loose, broad strokes of movement. I couldn’t help but like it, though, as it seemed to be a carryover from Pure‘s trick-inducing motion.
The game plays up the mechanic of destructible environments and quick-time events in a format that is easy to digest: Fill up the power meter, hit a button, cause an explosion. I felt like I could affect the track as much as I could affect my car. The on-screen QTEs would result in collapsing towers, or explosions, or in giant cranes crashing to the asphalt and blocking a path. It was brilliant, thrilling and fun.
When I crashed, the game respawned me soon afterwards, much like an FPS. The constant jumping in-and-out of the race is the kind of feature that allows casual racing fans to enjoy a game like this.
The minimal HUD was extremely refreshing — a glowing bar below the vehicle showcased the build-up of the QTE power meter, and there was no speedometer. There wasn’t a need for one, as I didn’t really care how fast I was going as long the action was intense and I was able to quickly get back into the race. There is a trend in minimalistic HUDs in games, and S/S captures that perfectly, relating only the information that a driver needs.
Split/Second has a great shot at being a fun, worthy successor to Pure, and a perfect addition to those who already have the latest Forza or are holding out for GT. The words “Oooooooooooooh!” and “Daaaaaaaaaaamn!” were spoken often during the demo, both at the high framerate explosions and the jockeying of the vehicles towards the end of a race via sneaky drifting procedures. True to its name, it only does take a Split/Second to miss seeing something incredible happen, or happen to me (in a bad way).
The game releases May 18th for the XBox 360, PS3 and PC.
Images and video courtesy Disney Interactive