I’ve had some great gaming memories over the years – completing Metal Gear Solid, blowing up my sister in Bomberman, winning the Champions’ League on Pro Evolution Soccer, failing to complete Metal Gear Solid II, defeating Dr Robotnik (who is this Eggman these days?) and spending hours and hours racing against my friends in various guises. Lotus II, Domark’s F1, the original Toca series – I loved them all thanks to their inclusion of a two-player split screen mode where my good friend Andy and I could while away hours, days and weeks battling to win whichever championship we were taking part in. Often these modes slowed the game down, made the graphics worse and left you squinting at an area of screen so small a health and safety officer would have a brown-trousers moment. Yet it didn’t matter as Andy and I were happy in our own little virtual bubble, battling it out against the computer and each other simultaneously.
PGR Split Screen image on Flickr by Bergius (CC Licence)
But ten years on, things have changed and I can’t have this experience anymore. You may argue I should have grown up by now and you’d possibly be right, but indulge me nevertheless. I feel it is not currently possible to get a good racing game with a two-player split-screen for the PlayStation 3. There, I said it. Sure you can get multiplayer these days, and play against your mates on the other side of the world – but not the ones in your actual living room. Don’t get me wrong – I know there are exceptions but the options for this PS3 owner appear severely limited. Gran Turismo: Prologue has a split-screen mode where there are no other cars on the track, leaving you thinking you’re on a strange track day where you’ve rented out the entire circuit and won’t let anyone else have a go. Virtua Racing made that mistake, and that was released in 1992. Ridge Racer, Need for Speed and Motorstorm: Pacific Rift may all be entertaining for the ‘arcade racer’ fans but they’re not really my bag. Wipeout HD has a fun split-screen, but it’s all a bit mental and I get a headache if I play it for more than fifteen minutes, and Sega Rally has it, but unfortunately Sega Rally crap. I want a proper racing game, which brings me to…
F1 on the Wii – a game that I played for the first time last weekend and I feel has got pretty much everything right. To be honest, when you first load it up it looks awful. The graphics seem weak, the animation cartoony and it generally feels out of date (to me anyway, for I have been spoiled with my PlayStation graphics). But boy – does it play well. I spent all of last weekend insatiably lapping Spa with a childish grin on my face and Andy by my side once again. Even in split-screen mode, the sense of speed seems perfect, the detail is just accurate enough for you to suspend your disbelief that you are actually Lewis Hamilton, and the options are what I have been crying out for. Not only does F1 have a full split-screen two-player mode with no slow-down, but everything is customisable. There are not only options for full realism (component failure, woo!), 100% race distance, fuel use, damage and tyre wear but you can even do a full championship! Finally!
I wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago about how excited I was that Codemasters were finally releasing F1 for the PS3, and that was before I had played the Wii version. Now I intend to pitch a tent outside their HQ in Birmingham and guarantee that I get my hands on a copy as soon as I possibly can. My expectations are now heightened further in that even if Codemasters make exactly the same game as the current version on the Wii, but with better graphics, I will love it.
It’s the relationship with your mate that’s the key thing – Andy and I don’t even have to talk to each other to have a great shared experience and I feel many modern games are missing a huge trick working to a ‘one player to one machine’ philosophy, rather than letting users customise their own preferences. Hopefully soon I’ll be able to sit with Andy once again and share a split-screen racing experience without guns, explosions or crap handling physics. Hopefully. Come September, the 2010 F1 game should be an absolute belter, as should Gran Turismo 5 – but I still feel disappointed that in this day of technological proliferation I should have to buy a whole new console to satisfy my desire for a quality up-to-date two-player split-screen racing game.