I used to be a very intense ‘car-game’ fan, putting in countless hours into Need for Speed (up to and including Need for Speed Underground), Gran Turismo 1 and 2, ATV Off-Road Fury, Stuntman and Tokyo Extreme Racer. I also grew-up playing a lot of split screen, and some of my favorites included Snowboard Kids (N64), Twisted Metal: Black (PS2), and Vigilante: Second Offense (N64, Dreamcast). My interest in both sim racing and battle racing games has all but fizzled away because I just haven’t run into a game that fulfills both, or either gameplay styles. Because my gaming time is now more limited, I’ve unconsciously consolidated my time to favor multiplayer mayhem gaming, which, in the case of battle racing games, usually means sacrificing great driving mechanics for vehicular weapons. How can I fulfill two gaming needs with one stone?
How fortunate Split Second and Blur come out during the dog days of summer.
As a purely racing game, Split-Second suffers from poor AI mechanics. The cars in Split Second are fictionalized versions of supercars (of which most are locked out at the start), and handle much looser because your power-ups are based off of achieving drift and draft points. The differences between cars feel trivial because the rubber-banding is unbelievably transparent. Once you get to the last lap, it feels as if you could have driven the course backwards and still be in the hunt for first (or last), because every race ends with needless randomness. The cars, all of a sudden, become magnetized onto each other as soon as you have 300 yards to go. It really was a shame that the fun, loose physics of the racing is sacrificed for the AI’s need to end every race with a neck-and-neck spectacle.
Blur’s real life vehicles feel nuanced enough that one can tell the difference between cars. The game is nicely balanced because the cars are tiered, and there are a lot of real-world cars to choose from right from the beginning. It’s through the distinct behavior of every car that you start feeling like you can actually out-race your opponent.
As for the combat, they both have their own merits. Split-second’s triggered environmental attacks are very satisfying to pull off through the clever implementation of the aforementioned driving-based powerups. The environmental events reminded me of the original Stuntman, where the narrowly avoiding an explosion makes you feel like an action-star. The actual strategy of using the powerup felt lackluster, however. The timing involved in activating environmental traps felt more like animation enablement, rather feeling like a well thought out attack.
Blur’s combat is akin to Mario Kart/Snowboard Kids, wherein unlocking a powerup involves actually making contact with glowing icons on the track – call it traditional, it works very well. This system, I think, better translates the player’s intention and skill than the environmental traps in Split Second. Every weapon has it’s own effect, and the ability to acquire 3 weapons, and change your next attack on the fly, adds to the strategy of high-octane battle racing.
Aesthetically, both adopt their own distinct visuals, which work well with their respective gameplay styles: Blur is dark and has a lot of…..blur, with a neon palate which works with the hyper stylized weaponry, while Split-Second is a very sharp and colorful game, which is appropriate in identifying the environmental traps. Both embrace their presentation well with appropriate music, menu presentation, and sound effects.
To be honest, nothing really matters besides how much fun the games are overall multiplayer. While Split-Second has more crazy environmental explosions and is much flashier, Blur has the familiar formula of the skills based, tense battle-racing I’ve enjoyed all my gaming career. Blur finds a great balance of adversarial action with satisfying racing with real cars that Split-Second just does not capture. The choice really does come down to cost, because having both is the best answer, but if I had to choose one, it would be Blur…..by a nose….