Split/Second Review

Racing games have never been one of my favorite things, and I despise reality shows. Those two things taken together would make it seem a little strange for me to be reviewing Split/Second, the new racing title from Disney Interactive. What’s even more strange is the staggering amount of fun I had playing the game. Let’s take a peek under the hood and see what’s responsible for all this enjoyment.

Split/Second (PC, PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360)
Developer: Black Rock Studio
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Released: May 18, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

Split/Second has a very simple concept. You’re a driver in a new reality show that pits you against other drivers in a variety of events. You earn points based on how you place in these events that count towards your overall finish position. Easy, right?

Split/Second maintains that same easy-to-understand feel throughout. You won’t need to know anything about downforces or gear ratios to prosper in this racer. If you can point the front end of the car in the right direction, you’re well on your way to a successful Split/Second career.

Did I mention the explosions? No? Oh, well there are LOTS of explosions. The game’s unique feature is that it combines environmental hazards with its arcade racing. As you drift, jump, and draft your way around the course, you will gain power. You can use this power to detonate these hazards. For example, I could cause a tanker truck up ahead to explode on the car in front of me.

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It sounds simple, but this actually adds a lot of challenge to the game. You need to always be aware of where those hazards are, since your opponents can detonate them as well. Additionally, you want to watch where you are in relation to the hazard, since you could get caught up in the aftermath.

Power isn’t just about explosions. At certain times you can spend your power to alter the course or open a temporary shortcut. This can often be difference in where you finish, or if you finish at all.

Don’t get the idea that Split/Second is all about beating seven other cars to the finish line ad nauseum. The game is broken up into ‘episodes’ of the notional reality show you’re participating in (called Split/Second, believe it or not). Each episode contains a number of different events.

Familiar to most race game veterans is Elimination mode. When an on-screen timer runs out, the racer in last place is eliminated. This continues until there’s only one driver left. Detonator mode is a twist on a traditional time trial, putting you on the track alone trying to clock the fastest time. The twist? Nearly every environmental hazard will go off as you draw near, adding flying debris and explosions to your list of worries.

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Two of Split/Second’s other game modes center around an attack helicopter. In Air Strike, you’ll find yourself trying to avoid missiles flying down from said chopper, while Air Revenge has you trying to intercept and redirect them to take that chopper down.

I’ve saved my personal favorite for last: Survival Mode. You’re dropped into what looks to be a drained concrete waterway filled with semi trucks. The goal is to pass trucks to add time to the clock and score points. Each truck will spew barrels, either red or blue. Blue barrels slow you down, and red barrels explode your car, costing you precious seconds.

Visually, Split/Second doesn’t disappoint, combining great-looking graphics with a near-perfect cinematic action camera. Black Rock Studios has also nixed the traditional racing HUD in favor of sticking the relevant information right on your car’s rear bumper. Current racing position, times, lap counters, and the all-important power meter are all easily visible without taking your eyes off the road ahead. This seems like a small change, but it really feels great in terms of gameplay.

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Strangely, the only graphical complaints I had were during the cutscenes, where you’ll occasionally see some pop-in or texture issues. These problems do not present themselves in-game, where the various environments are all extremely well done. Whether you’re racing across the deck of an aircraft carrier, dodging a landing C-130 aircraft, or dropping an air traffic control tower on your opponents, everything looks outstanding.

The reality TV show plot is loose at best, but it does tie everything up into one package. You never get the chance to see your driver, and the only commercials are for the show you’re on. If there’s a sequel, I’d love to see them strengthen this part of the game a lot, perhaps by adding some announcers , fake commercials, and the like.

Multiplayer options abound in Split/Second, from a two-player split-screen option (I wish they would have allowed four) to racing up to eight players online. Online races are fast and furious, offering the best experience that you can have in Split/Second, whether or not you allow the AI to fill the empty slots.

Don’t expect a ton of progression, unlocks, or perks in online play, because you’ll be disappointed. This is just one more case of Split/Second being all about the racing, and not much else. I would recommend playing through the single player campaign first, because without the unlocked cars from that mode, you’ll find yourself at a serious performance disadvantage in online races.

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All in all, Split/Second captures the feel of an arcade racer like nothing else since the original BurnOut games. It’s a racing title aimed squarely at the same people who so enjoyed Criterion’s series, and it hits the mark with aplomb. There’s a visceral thrill that’s attached to detonating the last remaining challenger between you and the finish line, and you get to experience it with regularity. I have to admit, this is the most fun I’ve had involving a reality show.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous graphics
  • Good variety of race types
  • Easy to learn
  • An absolute blast to play.

Cons:

  • Weak plot
  • Limited to two-player split screen

Overall Score: 92/100

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