Friday, April 2, 2010

Split/Second Hands-On

Split/Second is a racing game by the folks - Blackrock Studio - that brought you Pure. Of all of the publishers out there, Disney (yes, it is still shocking) is putting the proverbial gas in the tank. Split/Second looks to be a high octane thrill ride and I'm here to let you know if my hands-on time lived up to the hype or if the shock of this being a Disney game is all the appeal that it has.

Before I had the chance to put my foot down on the accelerator I was able to watch several people play the track that I would be playing. It looked like downtown Seattle mainly because there was a large Space Needle that became "part of the race". I'll embellish on that in a moment but I would first like to describe to you the beauty of this game.

Split/Second is gorgeous. From the absence of HUD (explained just one sentence down) to the graphically fidelity this game screeches (like rubber tires on the pavement) triple A. Now there is a HUD but this is not anything that you are used to; the HUD is "strapped" to the bottom of your vehicle and what it displays is very basic. The HUD consists of your Power Play meter (this bar fills as you drift, draft, pass, etc. opponents), your position in the race, and the lap counter. Contributing to the fidelity of the game the screen also "tilts" with your turns and in direct correlation to that it "feels" fast and immersive - very much like a Burnout game.

Having previously mentioned the Power Play meter, Power Plays are Split/Second's bread and butter. Power Plays are crescendo events that you can trigger using the "A" button (of course providing that you have some Power Play in your meter). There are smaller crescendos that may just involve dropping something from a helicopter onto the track in front of an opponent, triggering their temporary demise, to much larger events such as dropping the Space Needle on the track (it also becomes part of the track!). The large events are few and far between and it seems like they become each track's set-piece. The Power Plays are fantastic but are there enough to go around?

This brings me to the part where I have to tell you that the game is not all sunshine and rainbows. Though this could have been an issue with the demo, the game seems to have a lot of slowdown issues (particularly when there are a large amount of explosions or Power Plays being triggered simultaneously) and for a racing game this is a notably troubling issue. This could have troubling repercussions in multiplayer play as well.

In addition to the slowdown, after watching the races so many times before I was able to play myself, I noticed that the Power Play moments become predictable (and later potentially boring?). It becomes easy to know when to trigger them or to know where to drive in the case that they are triggered against you (and you get more juice for your PP meter for an escape). For a game that will probably have a decently sized multiplayer community this will either become boring or empowering for Veterans of the game or it will be off-putting to newcomers.

Having the luxury of playing a second track, at the Joystiq Blueberry Muffin Tops Breakfast, did nothing to sway me in the game's favor. I only noticed how the same experience seemed to be cut and pasted into a different area. The aesthetic only felt slightly different (one guy asked the Disney rep if all of the tracks took place in an urban environment to which he received no response) and even the smaller crescendo events seemed to be, or were, exactly the same.

I was excited for Split/Second when I first approached Disney's booth but now it is on my list of wait-and-see titles.

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