Video game release spotlight: 'Split Second', 'Blur', 'ModNation Racers'

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The Independent Tech

May is turning out to be a bumper month for driving games, as three new big-budget arcade-style offerings from studios in the UK and Canada jump into the fray, with Split Second, Blur, and ModNation Racers all poised to make their debuts.

Black Rock Studio, based in the seaside town of Brighton, UK, most recently showed their skills with the late 2008 Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 rough-and-tumble quad biking game Pure. The developers return with Split Second (known in Europe as Split Second: Velocity), which takes the explosive action of the more recent Burnout series and aims to crank things up a notch or two.

Cars are solid and robust, but in this colorful near-future reality TV / motorsport event, roadside objects, buildings, and towering monuments are rigged to blow up on command after drivers have gone through enough skids, slipstreams, and jumps in order to trigger the set-pieces. Imagine the Gumball Rally crossed with a blockbuster action film.

Timed right, flying debris will make other players lose control of their vehicles, or even cause enough disruption to change the track's route and take out competitors at the same time. In the game's public demo, a huge jumbo jet can be prompted to make an emergency landing on the Airport Terminal circuit.

Bizarre Creations, situated in Liverpool, northwest England, has adopted a different approach for the upcoming Blur. The team has a similarly rich history, having produced the four Project Gotham Racing games on Xbox and Xbox 360, and Metropolis Street Racer on the Sega Dreamcast before that. Just like those enjoyable wheelspinners, Blur boasts over 50 licensed cars and in contrast to Split Second has a darker look with neon accents.

Though Blur may seem to be more serious and focused than Split Second, it throws a bunch of power weapons into the mix and there's still room to mock current trends within its solo and multiplayer modes, as players can contact each other via the in-game services of Racebook (Facebook) and InnerTube (YouTube). They also expand on the 'kudos' system of PGR that rewards players for flashy driving.

Both games have taken the innovative step of concentrating any vital information around the car's rear fenders so players can concentrate on the action immediately in front of them.

The third driving game, ModNation Racers from United Front Games in Canada, is a PlayStation 3 exclusive (with a PSP version also coming out), and if all goes to plan it will become the platform's family-friendly equivalent to Mario Kart Wii.

Following on from the success of LittleBigPlanet's "play, create, share" motto, which allows PS3 users to design and distribute their own levels for cute characters to scramble over, often in homage to films, TV series, and other video games, ModNation Racers has a similarly adaptive style.

Not only are the caricatured drivers and vehicles fully customizable, but the game has a Track Studio so that circuits - with tunnels, jumps, flyovers and power-ups - can be quickly constructed and circulated among fellow players.

There are free demos of Split Second available for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 via the Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network Store respectively. Blur's online multiplayer trial is available for the Xbox 360. ModNation Racers has a PSP demo due out on May 11 and decent reviews for the PS3 version are already cropping up on the web and in gaming magazines.

Game information

Split Second (360, PS3, PC): Released May 18 in North America and Japan. Europe, May 21. Australia, May 20. Rated E10+/7+/PG. $60 / €60 / Y7,840 / $100 AUD. ($40/€50 on PC). Trailers on DisneyVideoGames' YouTube channel.

Blur (360, PS3, PC): Released May 25 in North America. Japan, May 18. Europe, May 28. Australia, May 26. Rated E/7+/PG. $60 / €70 / Y8,400 / $90-120 AUD ($40/€60 on PC). Trailers on BlurActivision's YouTube channel.

ModNation Racers (PS3): Released May 25 in North America. Europe, May 21. Australia, May 20. Japan, May 25. Rated E/7+/G. $60 / €70 / Y7,840 / $110 AUD (half price on PSP). Trailers on PlayStation's YouTube channel.

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