This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Split/Second: Velocity
I have a problem with driving games. I like them, but I'm terrible at them; it's the exact opposite of the problem I have with fellatio. It might be because I don't drive IRL 'cause I work from home and live in the city and doubt I would find it easier to get around if I were six feet wide and constantly farting carbon monoxide - I don't know how your mum does it. But driving really fast speaks to something primal and instinctive in the human brain - takes us back to those desperate times when a feeble-minded protohuman was putting the finishing touches to his new wheel when he'd hear a charging mammoth tearing up the undergrowth behind him and have no choice but to leap astride his invention and speed down the valley slopes to safety.
Yes, life was tough in Thatcher's Britain, but you know what might have made things even more exciting? If the mammoth, the wheel, and the valley had all subsequently exploded. Which brings me to Split Second: Velocity. Or rather, Split Stroke Second, because that's how it's written. So what the fuck does that mean, Disney Interactive Studios? Split or second? Do we have to pick one? Or does the game alternate between being themed around standard units of time measurement and serving suggestions for bananas?
Anyway, it's an extreme racing game - you do know that hyphen is the horizontal one, right? Look down, it's right next to the zero. I know it's hard to focus when Mickey Mouse is badgering you for results, but honestly!
Anyway it's an extreme racing game, with "extreme" in this case being pronounced while throwing up the horns and making a look on your face like you've just felt the onset of cardiac arrest. The game opens with the announcement that it's all a big fantasy and you definitely shouldn't try to recreate it. Which gave me pause for thought, because to recreate it you'd need a fleet of high-performance cars, several thousand tons of explosives, some ex-military helicopters, and your own private city. And I think if you're that rich, you're beyond needing video games for entertainment. You'd probably get your jollies by buying two poverty-stricken pregnant women and telling them that neither are getting out of the arena alive until one has eaten the other's fetus.
The premise of Split Second is that you're taking part in a TV show that is the inevitable result of ratings-conscious producers which combines the appeal of NASCAR and Saving Private Ryan. You are racing presumably against several people with terminal illnesses through a city that apparently nobody liked very much, bits of which are rigged to explode as you drive past them. And because it's set up like a TV show, a lot of the game communicates in the mysterious language of television. Instead of a "campaign," it's called a "season." Instead of a "stage," it's called an "episode." And the end of each episode, there's a little preview of the next one, full of dramatic music and flashy edits and that Zack Snyder thing where the camera goes really fast, then really slow, then really fast again, like the cameraman lost the manual to his electric wheelchair. All of which makes about as much sense as the episode recaps in Alan Wake. I already bought the game, Split Second; you don't have keep advertising yourself. Unless you're target audience is people with attention-deficit disorder who keep their TV in the same room as their disco ball collection, which frankly wouldn't surprise me.
The unique gameplay selling point for driving repeatedly around in a circle in a technology that has been long perfected is that if the racers in front of you are shaking their tailpipes at you ostentatiously you can make a nearby structure explode, like a cross between John McClane and Dick Dastardly, and teach them humility. The problem with this as a strategy is that it's a lot more arbitrary than, say, just firing a great big missile from your car, but I guess there's considerably less deniability in that scenario. There's no guarantee you'll even hit an opponent and an equal chance you'll blow your own stupid arse off the road. When I did hit someone, more than once the subsequent Burnout-style slow-motion close-up of my victory caused me to fail to notice a big fuck of wall that was rushing up to make my acquaintance.
And, naturally, you're not the only one with access to the explosions wishing well, and you can be in a solid first place for three laps only for someone to drop a fucking cargo container full of rhinos on your head ten yards from the finish line. Maybe we could just toss a fucking coin to decide the winner and all get to go home quicker! Then we wouldn't have to blow up any more orphanages.
There are a handful of other gameplay modes that are all variations on a theme of "avoid things that explode," whether it be barrels falling out the back of a truck or a helicopter firing missiles or indeed a helicopter firing missiles that you can then deflect back at the helicopter like you're playing incredibly rich people's tennis. I think I've figured this out. World peace must have been declared, and this is the method decided upon to shortsightedly use up all the military hardware while simultaneously keeping the public distracted from the machinations of the secret world government!
There's twelve episodes with six events a piece, but the game producer's whips weren't long or painful enough to coerce more than a handful of level maps out of the designer, so the game constantly repeats. I guess it really is like a TV show. You'll revisit the same courses about thirty times before you even hit sweeps week, which is fairly typical for racing games, but could you not have occasionally used the same map but with a different course? Even just run the same course but in reverse. I doubt any of the target audience would notice, if you kept the flashing lights going or stuck up some tits on some billboards.
At the end of the explosion-filled day, Split Stroke Second Colon Velocity has one idea that fails to hold it up, a thin crust of sugar over a tasteless crème brûlée made of water and paste. The intention was presumably to base the game around spectacle, but after you've raced the same course for the third time and realised that it's always the same things exploding then the spectacle becomes a testicle. After a while I was driving on automatic, lulled into a hypnotic trance by buzzing motors and sweet drifts, surfacing momentarily to screech with rage whenever a random exploding carpark cost me the lead.
It's punishing success, that's what it is. Ayn Rand would be very upset. Too often the outcomes of the races seem more dependent on luck than anything else. Plus the flashy presentation is so blatantly designed to appeal to the very lowest of the cultural brows that I just can't shake the feeling that the mere act of touching the game kind of makes me a prick.
- Game/Critic: Ferocity: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I did actually take my driving test by failed because the instructor genuinely thought she was going to die
- Things explode when my mum drives past them