In the realm of racing games it takes quite a bit to stand out. The Burnout series took things to new heights with each release focusing more on arcade action and destruction as opposed to gear tuning and tire pressure. Black Rock Studios, whose recent effort Pure won the hearts of many arcade racing fans, has returned with yet another over-the-top game that defines destructive racing. Split/Second is a combination of serial TV series mixed with Hollywood-caliber explosions combined to create an experience unlike any other. Fans of games like Burnout and Project Gotham are truly in for a treat with Black Rock’s latest outing.
It is not hard to classify what Split/Second is, but at its core the premise behind that the developers so strongly touted is sort of a letdown. The episode style presentation is supposed to mimic TV shows such as Lost and 24 where they give you a “next time on…” and “previously on…”. However, these ideas fall flat when you realize that most of them literally have nothing to do with each other and only serve to introduce the new set of obstacles standing in your way. There is inherently nothing wrong with it, but it fails to deliver in the areas it claims to.
Of course this is all meaningless as Split/Second remains one of the most intense and explosive racing games on the market. The biggest draw to all the fun is the power play mechanic. Basically simple racing moves such as drafting, jumps and drifting will earn you notches on your meter. It has three levels and filling one allows you to wreak havoc on drivers in front of you. Whether you are dropping bombs from selectively placed helicopters to detonating nuclear reactors, the outcome is the same. This is what makes each race unique, and learning the tracks quickly becomes a must.
This is the one area where Split/Second tends to waiver on the tedious side. A lot of the scenery will be repeated time and time again. While each episode carries a unique theme, there is a lot of repetition within each one. This doesn’t become too cumbersome though because it allows you to learn the track design and how to time your power plays effectively. Every single race is a “grip your controller” moment, but not always for a good reason.
This brings me to my biggest gripe with the game. Knowing the best racing line and taking turns perfectly is not nearly as important as knowing when and how to use your power plays. I can recall countless times where I would be cruising in first place the entire last lap only to be thwarted at the last second by the AI delivering a perfectly placed power play to ruin my win. This kind of rubber-band AI really starts to wear on you after a while, especially for people like me who feel the need to finish every event in first place. Granted you are not required to do so, in fact you can earn enough points to proceed through the game by placing third or higher, it is still agitating to restart a race because of one quick power play.
Even with these minor annoyances though Split/Second redeems itself with an intense atmosphere and addictive gameplay. Every race feels like a gripping experience and the developers have done an amazing job of creating diversity in each of the various race types. For instance you have the standard race mode where finishing first is the goal, but you also have some traditional and not so traditional modes that spice up the action. My personal favorite is survival where you are barreling down the track trying to avoid explosive barrels that a giant semi truck is tossing off of each side. There are also modes where you are alone on the track against a helicopter that is trying to take you down. The alternative to this mode also allows you to deflect the missiles back at the chopper for explosive results.
The handling in Split/Second falls in line with most arcade racers where drifting and sliding take center stage. I do like the fact that larger cars are less effected by the blast radius of certain power plays, making choosing a car for each event as essential as winning it. I am a little disappointed by a lack of more camera views as the default bumper cam is a bit too close to the ground in some vehicles, but this is a minor, personal qualm of mine. The little touches help keep you engulfed in the world of Split/Second such as the entire HUD being displayed on the back of the car and the decals spread around your ride actually representing the Trophies/Achievements you have earned. It is also nice to track your progress in the extras menu.
In addition to the single player game you can also venture off into quickplay or even head online to test your skills against the world. The online mode is pretty bare bones and only supports the cars you have unlocked in single player, so if you want to hang with the best, you will have to dive into the campaign before heading online. Don’t expect a robust online component and a massive community and you will not be disappointed, thankfully you can fill empty spots with AI drivers to compensate. There is a local split-screen mode, but it only supports two players which somewhat limits its appeal as well.
Visually the game really does a fantastic job of displaying massive explosions and debris. I love the effects of driving through explosions and other obstacles as the camera shakes and the field of vision is distorted. As I mentioned the track variety will start to blend together outside of the power plays, but it is never enough to truly drag you out of the action. The music is somewhat disappointing as it quickly becomes background noise as it attempts to mimic an epic summer blockbuster.
Split/Second is the spiritual successor to Burnout Revenge in so many ways and fans of that entry would do well to check it out. There is more than enough content here to satisfy just about any arcade racing game fan. Some of the more ambitious features come across feeling flat, but power plays and the new racing modes more than make up for the shortcomings. If you enjoy the genre at all, Black Rock has certainly crafted one of the finest action/racing games ever created and they continue to prove their expertise in the genre.
Review copy provided by publisher.