Blur Vs. Split/Second

Yeah, yeah, I know: we just did one of these “VS” pieces. Too damned bad, it needs to be done again; I don’t make the rain, I just provide the umbrellas. Don’t hate the player, man, just get out of the kitchen. Wait…I’m starting to confuse myself. The point is, we find ourselves as consumers of video games in one of the most delectable positions possible: honest competition. Two products want the same space on our shelves at around the same time. Game developers and publishers avoid this event as much as Antitrust legislation will possibly allow; they treat it like two women who accidentally wear the same outfit. When it finally does take place, it’s worth celebrating as one of those rare, pure capitalist moments of consumer joy. And when the two products are roughly equivalent in terms of quality—not that I’m necessarily saying that’s the case here—it’s even better.

So there you stand, Dear Reader. In one hand, you have Bizarre Creations’ “Blur.” In the other, Black Rock Studios’ “Split/Second” gazes up at you longingly. Both are cuddly, but only one of them is coming home with you from the gaming kennel, because you only have enough game food to feed one of them. This metaphor is really starting to run aground.

So which is it going to be? “Blur” or “Split/Second”?

-Are we seriously even having this conversation? “Blur!” A thousand times “Blur!” It’s not even up for debate. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly adorable that Black Rock Studios wants to come swim in the big boy pool, but Bizarre Creations has been here for years, doing back flips and playing water tag with the cute neighborhood girls. There’s just something inherently awesome about the guys who did “Project Gotham Racing” deciding to loosen their neck ties and make a kart racer for grown ups. There is nothing at all awesome about a studio that specializes in Hot Wheels slapping together a “Burnout” clone because their last ATV game didn’t sell. Returning to the pool metaphor for a second, it’s like they saw Bizarre Creations’ sweet back-flip impress the hot lifeguard, so now they’re hollering, “Look at me! I can do it too!” And then they do a flying squirrel into the lifeguard stand and someone has to call the EMTs. I don’t know what’s with me and metaphors tonight.

“Blur” is a revolutionary product. It takes the kart-weapons from Mario and friends, slaps them on a super-cool modern racer that’s equal parts “Burnout” and “Project Gotham,” then fuses that to an Xbox Live experience modeled on shooters like “Call of Duty.” Leveling up? Yes. Team racing? Absolutely. Load outs? You got it. These are groundbreaking steps, you’re not getting an online racing experience like this anywhere else. And what does “Split/Second” have to counter all of this? Er…a scene where an airplane crashes on the tarmac. I guess that’s kind of cool, in case you didn’t see Valve do it already in “Left 4 Dead.”

The biggest problem with “Split/Second” is that its only interesting facet is a one-trick pony. Yes, you can press a button and make some stuff blow up as you race, but it’s always the same pre-rigged events, and there aren’t that many courses. It’s going to get very old, very fast. Beyond that, Black Rock is offering you a completely nondescript arcade racer with nothing that hasn’t been done a dozen times before by Rockstar, Criterion, and God knows who else. No innovative online play. No upgrades or progression of any kind, besides unlocking the same bland, nameless sports cars and Hummer clones you’ve been earning sine “OutRun.” Pardon me whilst I yawn.

And what kind of stupid name is “Split/Second?” We needed a slash in there, huh? And did you know that’s not even its real name? It’s true ! It’s full, Christian name is “Split/Second: Velocity.” So not only do we have a slash, we have a subtitle. I guess Black Rock wanted to differentiate this game from all the other “Split/Seconds” with slashes in between the words that are getting released these days. On the other hand, “Blur” is a great title: easy to say, evocative, distinct. Right on the money. Like the rest of the games in question, these titles exemplify the difference between the designers: one a sure and confident master, the other a desperate, insecure poser. Go buy “Blur” and thank me later.

ON THE OTHER HAND!

-”Split/Second” is a must-have, adrenaline pumping racing machine, developed by a hungry up-and-comer studio with a passion for excellence. “Blur” is an abortive Frankenstein of five different games with no clear vision for how they’re supposed to come together, authored by a company whose bread and butter franchise is flat-lining. It must be embarrassing for Bizarre Creations to get beaten at their own game by a hot new talent, but such is life.

It’s clear how “Blur” came about: Activision purchased Bizarre Creations, after they couldn’t get a better racing studio, and only then realized that no one likes “Project Gotham Racing.” Most people who bought the first two probably assumed from the title that they’d be driving the Batmobile, and when the truth came out, “PGR3″ got left in the dust. It’s a miracle it didn’t happen sooner, the entire series is neither fish nor fowl: it’s not wild enough to be a fun arcade racer, but it isn’t precise or deep enough to be a simulation either. They managed to find all the crappy parts from every different kind of racing game and smash them into one cold, joyless experience. It was inevitable that as soon as “Forza” and “Need for Speed” got their acts together, Bizarre Creations was going to be shut down. So they slapped together a “fun” title by copying “Mario Kart” onto PGR and called it a day, never stopping to consider if that idea makes any sense at all.

“Split/Second,” on the other hand, is a balls out fusion of arcade racer and summer blockbuster, the kind of idea you can’t believe no one tried before. The Power Plays are jaw-droppers, even the simplest of them can send opponents spinning like a top in the blown-out corpse of their former sports car. And the big ones…oh mercy, the big ones. These are easily some of the most adrenaline-soaked moments in racing history: an entire building collapsing around you, a breathless high speed race across the surface of an aircraft carrier, even a death-defying game of chicken with a crashing 747. That Black Rock could balance these “Holy S**t!” moments while maintaining a rock-solid frame rate and “Burnout” sense of speed is some kind of miracle. There are never any dull races, every single one has close-calls, five car pileups, and breathless finishes. This is game design on the highest level.

“Blur,” meanwhile, is a broken experience. The “Mario Kart” influence adds some novelty to the PGR formula, but the wobbly handling and punishing car physics that Bizarre Creations stubbornly adhere to are a poor match with bright, zany power ups. Meanwhile, the online servers are so plagued with freezes, lag and inexplicable disconnects that even the game’s most ardent supporters are recanting their vows of fealty. The game is nigh-unplayable in the exact spot where it’s supposed to be strongest. They’ve undone the only good thing “Blur” accomplished: an innovative multiplayer paradigm. Without that, there is simply nothing to recommend this game.

It’s a simple question, really: would you rather putter down the road in a Mazda clone and hit someone with a red spark, or scream across the highway in a sports car and crush your opponents with a helicopter that falls out of the sky? Go buy “Split/Second” and prepare to shout “No f***ing way!” every ten minutes.

BOOM. There you have it folks. Now the decision is yours.