Racing games, on the outside are very attractive propositions to gamers and non-gamers alike. You don’t have to explain to somebody what the object of such a game is. You get in a car and try to get to the end of the course before the other racers, simple. However, like fighting games, they can be complex beasts that reward players who spend time with them, master the courses and the cars, and understand the nuances and mechanics of these finely tuned machines. That is not me.
Unless the game comes with red shells and accepts that I will have my finger on the accelerate button at all times, then it will probably be lost on me. I have dabbled in Forza, I have crashed in Burnout, and I have hit blistering speeds in F-Zero. Whilst I have enjoyed my time with these games, none of these racing behemoths have made me a fan of the genre; none have sunk their teeth into me. There was one game however; one that truly made an impact on a non-committal racer, that game was Split/Second: Velocity.
If you have never heard of this game then you are in good company. The now defunct Black Rock Studios, under the financial muscle of Disney, pushed out this title back in 2010. If Michael Bay was to make a racing game, it would have probably looked something like this (Explosions!). The game somewhat plays like a hybrid of Burnout and Mario Kart, instead of collecting power-ups, you earn them by completing feats within a race. These are simple everyday racing game tasks such as drifting and pulling stunts. This then builds up a meter which can be traded in – at specific parts of the level – for a destructive advantage. There are differing levels based on how much meter you have to spend, with the lowest levels allowing for events such as, helicopters dropping explosive barrels on the race, but the highest tier is where Split/Second really earns its stripes.
The first time I ever saw this game was in a reveal trailer, and I remember the exact moment my internal voice said “I am buying this game”. The racers in the video were driving down a runway, when all of a sudden a plane in the distance starts to explode. The plane was heading for the runway and it wasn’t slowing down. The plane crashed down onto the course, taking out the racers and I believe ending the video. This wasn’t a scripted event, in the respect that it happens every time you play that course, it was triggered. A player built up a meter and waited, then brought the plane down on the race. That racer isn’t even immune to the plane, they too have to try and avoid the hulking pieces of metal descending on the course. These set-pieces are adrenaline fuelled mechanics that cause masses of destruction or completely alter the terrain. Courses can literally be changed, destroying cars in the process and opening up a totally new path around the level.
I had a lot of fun with Split/Second; it remains the only racing game to ever have me hyped before its release. It also didn’t disappoint me when I finally got to drop buildings on other racers. The game was very well received, and sits as high as 84 on Metacritic. Despite the positive reviews and my own fondness for the title, why is it not remembered by many, and where are the sequels? Apart from the glowing reviews, not much else actually went well for the game. Although it was backed by Disney -who had been doubling down on high-end console experiences – they did a U-turn close to the games release, claiming those types of experiences were no longer their priority. Ultimately, Disney did back away from those types of games meaning they wouldn’t invest in a sequel. On top of that Split/Second released on 18th May 2010, within a week of 2 other major racing games. Activision’s Blur on the 25th and Sony’s ModNation Racers on the 19th, which to be quite frank, was a stupid move. With the increased competition, and the fact that it was a new and untested IP, the game sold very poorly. Sales are the biggest factor when green-lighting sequels and Split/Second didn’t make a strong enough case for itself to get a new game.
Whilst I am disappointed that we will probably never see a new game in the series, and I believe this format being improved on and further modernized would make my version of a perfect racing game, Split/Second: Velocity has left an impression. So much so that I wouldn’t be surprised if a team of developers took the core concept of the game, created a spiritual successor and made the game their own. We have seen Dangerous Driving and Wargroove make that very move recently with Burnout and Advance Wars respectively, so there is still hope.
This nearly decade-old game still holds up today, in its fast, pulse-pounding races and near misses. If you have Steam or access to a 360/PS3, and like arcade racers, then I implore you to give this game a chance. You never know, you may just join me in longing for a sequel that will never arrive.