Split/Second: Velocity

For a driving game to stand out these days it needs a great gimmick. And this one has an absolute corker...

Split/Second: Velocity is all about driving ridiculously fast and using every trick at your disposal to nobble the seven opponents sharing the track with you. But you can forget all about the usual tricks of using your car as a battering ram or firing missiles at your rivals, as this game takes as many of its cues from Michael Bay's movies as it has from previous racers like Burnout and Mario Kart. Epic destruction is the order of the day, where instead of simply firing a weapon at another car, you trigger a huge series of explosions dropping an entire building on it instead!

Of course, this kind of epic mayhem needs some kind of explanation. And so it is that the game introduces us to a near-future world where the biggest sport on TV is one based around driving cars around a variety of street circuits and blowing things up. It's pretty flimsy stuff – about as well thought out as the concept used in Paul Anderson's Death Race remake – but the flashy visuals and episodic nature of the concept actually lend themselves to the game's menu design rather well.

Drifting and drafting
As for the driving itself, the main racing model is very much of the Ridge Racer school of arcade racing games. It's all about keeping your finger on the accelerator and hitting the brakes hard into corners, flinging your car into huge drifts. In other words, it's easy to understand and get into, but there's a real skill in getting it exactly right. As well as drifting the game also makes a big deal about drafting, which for those not in the know, is all about riding in the slipstream of another vehicle.

Drifting, drafting and 'catching big air' (jumping off ramps) all serve to build up your three-part Power Play meter. The more it fills up, the more explosive the arsenal of attacks you have access to. But, in a change from the norm, all of the attacks are predetermined events that occur at specific points around the track. So not only do you have to build up the power meter by driving like a loon, you also have to be careful about when you trigger an event. Get it right and a girder hanging from a helicopter will sweep the offending cars away. Time it wrong and you might be the one being knocked to the edge of the track. And, of course, the seven other cars are trying to do the same to you.

Playing with power
If the idea of triggering events at specific areas around the track sounds a little tricky to get your head around while careening through corners at ludicrous speeds, don't worry. The game's HUD is a marvel of design, clearly highlighting all of the Power Play spots without getting in the way of the racing itself. It also looks great. The HD graphics are never less than spectacular - with excellent draw distance even at the most frantic speeds and wholly convincing models for the copious types of vehicles you work your way through. All of which also ensures that things never get too disorientating, no matter how many different things you're trying to keep your eye on at the same time (racing line, incoming corner, several opponents, reversing truck, exploding parked cars, etc.).

So even if it isn't the deepest game ever, or necessarily the best combat racing game (the last few Burnout games still better it, in my opinion), Split/Second: Velocity is fantastic fun, akin to racing through an action scene in a blockbuster movie – and it looks truly sensational on your bigscreen TV as well. And that's just in single-player mode. Unsurprisingly, there's a good mix of multiplayer modes on offer, too. Up to eight players can compete against each other online, but the real treat is the inclusion of a two-player split-screen mode. The latter is frequently overlooked on games these days, which is a real shame as there's nothing quite like taking out a friend's car with a well-aimed helicopter missile strike when they're sat on the sofa right next to you.

Xbox 360 (tested), PS3, PC, Disney Interactive Studios, £50 approx, On sale now