Wednesday, June 23, 2010
GLAG Review: Split/Second
The first time we played this was after Adam downloaded the demo from XboxLive.
"I think you guys will like this game," he said. "It has drifting."
"I can't play racing games," Steph said.
"They're easy," Renee said. "Just go fast and keep your car in the middle of the screen."
After everyone else took a few turns around the track, Steph finally gave into our prodding and picked up the controller. The rest of us had been coming in at 7th place on our first, second, and even third tries.
So of course Steph came in first.
"Did I win?" she said.
"Yeah," Adam said. And then, "I think you need to own this game."
Two weeks later she does, so tonight we finally made good on our plans to start a regular weekly game (and blogging) night and set to playing.
Split/Second is really pretty, but this isn't the only reason we liked it. I'm torn between getting ridiculously specific with technicalities or just boiling it down to the simple aspects that made the game fun. Since there are nerdier folks out there who can probably delve deeper into the geekery of gaming, I think we'll stick to the simple stuff.
Racing games can get kind of boring when all you're doing is trying to drive progressively better equipped cars around progressively more difficult tracks. Split/Second gives you more stuff to play with, namely the ability to explode or drop things on the track to hopefully wreck the cars in the lead. This isn't the first time we've seen this kind of thing in a racing game (Stuntman: Ignition, anyone? Or maybe Mario Kart?) but the designers make good use of them. It's fun setting them off, and it's also fun trying to dodge the debris.
Adam was right--we did enjoy the drifting. We suck at it, but it's still fun to try. And when you do it right, you accumulate power that allows you to unleash the number one fun thing about the game, explosions! We think with practice we will get better at drifting, and the possibility to learn and improve at a game is key when you're thinking about long-term playability.
3. The Race Tracks
In addition to being pretty, the race tracks in S/S maintain a good balance between ridiculously confusing and pleasantly straightforward. There are tons of things that you can, and will, run into, and these things mostly break apart and toss debris into the air. When you're trying to see around or through this debris, and take a tight turn, and blow someone up, and not run into a bus, there's a nice air of chaos and potential disaster that's fun to experience regardless of the outcome. And pretty quickly afterward you'll run into a straightaway and be able to recover (assuming you didn't completely eat shit) and regain your bearings. And in spite of the hectic nature of the race, figuring out where to go is relatively easy even if you're on a short-cut or someone has triggered a route change. Also, we liked that there's the occasional short cut and route change.
4. Game Play Variations
While you're obviously trying to win races (and get newer, fancier cars), there's a good bunch of interesting twists to the simple go-fast-come-in-first game. The one that's been hardest for us tonight isn't a race at all, but an attempt to avoid getting blown up by a helicopter mounted with missiles. There's also elimination rounds where the player in last place is automatically eliminated when a certain amount of time has passed, time limit rounds where you're alone and trying to finish a lap in a certain amount of time, and of course the usual go-fast-come-in-first game. And all we got to tonight was the single-player campaign--we haven't tried anything on XboxLive or two-player split-screen.
5. Slow Mo!
Actually, we're not sure we like this. Whenever you set off an explosion the game drops into slow motion for about five seconds, partly so you can appreciate the awesomeness of the explosion (we think) but also (probably) to give you a chance to see what you're about to drive through and plan accordingly. At times it's very helpful, and other times it's a little annoying.
The one thing we're definitely leaning more toward not liking is the length of the cut scenes and loading screens. If they exist just to fill up the time that it takes for the game to load, that's fine. If the designers put them in because they thought we needed a reality game show sub-plot to have fun with a racing game, that's retarded.
Overall everyone at GLAG (Adam included) thinks Split/Second is a solid 4 out of 5 stars. It's beautiful to watch (whether you're playing or not) especially on Steph's fancy plasma flat-screen (though would probably be near unplayable on Renee's--both of us ran into pylons and buses more than once because we failed to notice them in high resolution; imagine that on a regular old boob tube...) and maintains just the right balance between fun and challenging. We also never felt annoyed when we lost a race; after nearly three hours of playing we'd crashed countless times but continued to come up laughing because the extravagance of our failure was so hilarious. If a game can be fun even when you (occasionally) suck at it, that's definitely a win in our book.