True racing simulators have the ability to capture the authenticity and intensity of speeding through a course on famous or fictitious racetracks alike. Black Rock Studio’s Split/Second takes the idea of a racing sim, and curb-stomps it with adrenaline rich explosions and larger-than life destruction of just about every little piece of the track. It is equal parts Hollywood blockbuster and arcade-style racing goodness. Still, take your eyes off the screen for even a second and you may just find yourself on the receiving end of all those explosions.
Split/Second is based on a reality show of the same name. The objective in the game, and the TV show, is to compete and win against some formidable opponents on tracks that have been designed specifically with carnage and destruction in mind. This is the game’s twist – you build up points or power by performing stellar driving maneuvers, and unleash pre-designated explosions. These explosions could be anything from a car on the side of the track blowing up, or a helicopter dropping a payload on your opponents.
In this TV show emulator, the premise of the singleplayer mode, you’ll play in 12 seasons. During these seasons, you’ll get 4 tracks to compete on, with successful runs on each track unlocking more races. You win credits (which feels like a throwback to old school arcade racers) to help you advance onto new tracks and new cars. The ultimate goal of each episode is to win an Elite race. Most of the races in the seasons provide different gameplay modes, like straight races or elimination runs.
You’ll find fairly typical controls for a racer. If you are comfortable using trigger buttons for acceleration and the analog stick to steer, you’ll be right at home. Drifting is essential in Split/Second – love it or hate it. Unfortunately, the emphasis on drifting feels somewhat forced at times, but you must drift or draft behind other vehicles to build up your power plays. These power plays give you the ability to essentially blow stuff up. If you see a crane on the side of the screen and you have built up enough power play points, you will see an indicator over the crane, allowing you to essentially make the crane take out your opponents – if you time it right. Power plays can also cause some pretty epic changes to the track. This opens the door to the creation of shortcuts. You can also trigger a copter to drop bombs on the track, which can take out your competition.
Beyond your ability to influence the racetrack or blow-up your competitors, the game throws in plenty of planned events. At one points a plane crashed on a tarmac, and we were forced to quickly turn out of the way, leaving our opponents in the dust. Another point put us barrelling through a construction site, blasting through metal fences and dodging giant wrecking balls. This is the norm in Split/Second, and because the tracks are so destructible, players must keep their eyes on the screen if they want to win.
All this onscreen action can create problems, though. While we were impressed with the frame rate, we frequently found ourselves lost in all the fire and rubble. Due to the fact there is so much going on during your race, it’s really easy to get disoriented, especially if it’s your first race on that track. Once you get more familiar with the track, you can really focus on avoiding the track’s little, and big, challenges.
Outside of the occasional onscreen confusion, the graphics in Split/Second offer a wonderful palette for the eyes. With each track or episode comes a different look and feel to the tracks. Even the different cars have a unique look. There’s a fair amount of bright colors and the lighting is really terrific for such a fast-paced racer. Of course, our eyes were always drawn to all the explosions, which without a doubt looked incredible on our high def system. The audio fits perfectly for this style of game, with the soundtrack remaining a loud, upbeat affair that sounds like it was plucked straight from a Hollywood racing flick. Still, it wasn't long before things became increasingly repetitive, and what started off as a fitting score soon became something of an annoyance to our ears.
When you get used to the controls and game style, you can step into the multiplayer modes. Online is pretty basic. You can only race with the cars you have unlocked in the single player campaign, so it should go without saying that the further you get playing solo, the better you’ll do competing against online foes. The online feature is a nice addition, but a bit thin at this time, since the game just launched. It should be noted that the AI will take over for unfilled players in the online mode. The online modes include a single race, Survival and Elimination. You can also play locally in split-screen, which in our opinion is a huge draw. Four-player split screen would have been great, but since there is so much going on in-game, two-player split screen works well.
Some of the game modes include the basic multi-lap race and Elimination, which is like a time trial with an explosive twist. In Elimination, everything that could explode does explode, so you’ll have to watch every twist and turn. Survival puts you against the clock, as you are forced to pass semi trucks that drop behind varying colored barrels, each either blowing up or slow you down. The other modes seemed a bit off. Air Strike puts your reflexes to test, with helicopters launching missiles your way. Air Revenge, on the other hand, somehow makes it so you can repel the missiles. The cars in Split/Second are wildly solid and rugged, yet fast with tight handling. But, even when they crash, you can keep driving and you rarely have to worry about any damage. Something about dodging missiles just seems a bit off.
The AI is pretty much the same as it is in other racing games. And this presents a bit of a downer because even with all the explosions, the AI doesn’t’ seem too swayed by all the danger. They know the course better than you, they know the perfect lines, and they are resilient. This isn’t too say they are unbeatable, or the game is unfairly difficulty, it’s just that the AI doesn’t seem as destructible as you or the track itself.
Split/Second is a surprise. At first it seems like a basic racing game, but the more you play it, the more you realize all the explosions and track changing events make this gamer bigger than life. It’s Hollywood blockbuster racing packed onto a Blu-ray disc, with tight controls, beautiful visuals, and an assortment of gameplay modes that are hit or miss. Racing fans will adore this game, but even if you aren’t a fan of the genre, you’ll want to see what all this explosive excitement is about.
-The Final Word-
Split/Second is an arcade-style racing game with an explosive twist. It offers Hollywood blockbuster intensity with its reality show charm, in a fast-paced, bigger-than-life experience.