Split/Second had the unfortunate problem of being launched in close proximity to Blur, another high-profile racing title. For many, the two may have blended together, and their chronological closeness led to inevitable comparisons between the two.
It’s unfortunate, because the two games really couldn’t be more different. They’re both racing games with realistic cars, sure, but that’s about where the similarities end. While Blur went the way of Mario Kart, with power ups and weapons, Split/Second is a pure arcade racer with one major twist: opponent-destroying, track-rearranging Power Plays.
Both the tracks and cars in Split/Second are absolutely gorgeous. This is no surprise, considering the pedigree of developer Black Rock Studios, creators of last year’s Pure.
The game’s real graphical prowess, however, comes in the form of Power Plays. You haven’t played a racing game until you’ve jammed your finger down on the gas button, feverishly trying to escape a dry-docked cargo ship sliding toward you along the dock or pressed a button and watched rushing water carry off your rivals as you push a button to trigger a dam explosion.
Every aspect of the racing and the gigantic set pieces in the game evoke a Hollywood blockbuster. You’ll feel as though Michael Bay himself is directing your game as you powerslide under the wing of a plane as it lands then rocket off a collapsed overpass into the parking garage below.
The racing is solid, though I felt that the cars begin to powerslide a little too easily while navigating the game’s many hairpin turns, making it hard to maintain control.
I’ll be honest, I’m not the kind of guy who wants to go out there and find the perfect line to get the fastest time. I’m from the Burnout school of racing, and prefer taking out my opponents to out driving them.
Which leads to my major complaint about Split/Second. It masquerades as a combat-style racing game, a la Burnout, but once you get into it you’ll discover that it’s more of a pure racing game than you were led to believe. You can’t simply keep the gas held down and win, you have to employ brakes and carefully-controlled slides to get the fastest times.
I’m not saying this ruins the experience, it’s just a little deeper than what I expected after watching the trailer and playing the demo.
Page two has the rest of our Split/Second review, including information on Online Play and our final verdict on the game.
Explosive Set Pieces
Truly the highlight of the game, the multitude of available Power Plays ensures that you’re always in the race. You build up power by pulling off moves like powerslides, jumps, and drafts, then unleash your stored energy to trigger Power Plays, which range from mundane bus explosions to the aforementioned gigantic dam collapse.
Learning the ins and outs of each track and its associated Power Plays makes all the difference in this game. If your rival is ahead of you, and headed down the right side of the track, it helps to know whether the next Power Play will take him out regardless of positioning, or will simply pass by in the other lane. Knowing the locations of each Power Play also makes avoiding them that much easier.
Grandiose spectacles abound in Split/Second. Bridges collapse, planes land, control towers fall, and mountainsides explode, showering racers with boulders.
Players in Split/Second take part in an imaginary reality television show, and the presentation truly creates a sense of immersion. Each episode opens with a preview of what’s to come and ends with a glimpse at the types of races you’l be navigating in the next.
It’s little details like this that really made the game special for me. Black Rock could have taken the easy way out and just organized a series of races, but the overall presentation really draws you into the game. I began to feel like an actual contestant a few races in, and the game’s fiction truly serves to legitimize all the crazy explosions and dynamic set pieces on each track.
You’ve got all the basic racing modes you’ve come to know and love here, with staples like the standard race and elimination, but several truly innovative race types will really get your heart pumping.
"Survival" mode has you racing to overtake semi trucks as they spew out explosive barrels and navigate narrow courses, "Air Attack" mode has you driving as quickly as possible to dodge incoming missiles, and "Air Revenge" mode allows you to turn the tables on the helicopter launching them by building up your Power Play gauge.
Split/Second has full online play capabilities, with separate rankings for your online career. Matches don’t seem to be sorted by skill level or game progress, so you’re probably better off waiting until you’ve unlocked some of the game’s fastest cars before heading online, or else you’ll be soundly beaten by those who have.
The Verdict (4 out of 5)
Split/Second is an incredibly-fun arcade racer with fantastic set pieces and an engaging presentation. The driving portions of the game are deeper than the overall package might suggest, but both casual and hardcore racing fans should find something to love here.
Ultimately, there are few experiences in gaming that rank up there with taking out all of your opponents in one fell swoop with a collapsing dam. It’s moments like these that elevate Split/Second beyond just a great racing game.
Even gamers who have never spent any time behind a racing wheel can appreciate the cinematic Power Plays and exciting action. Split/Second is definitely a game worth checking out.