Split/Second Review

Lee Abrahams

Racing games tend to fall into two categories; either the hardcore simulation or the arcade style thrill ride. This game is unashamedly in the latter category and makes no secret of the fact that it is about big dumb fun and plenty of explosions. Think of it as the Michael Bay style blockbuster of the gaming world and you will not be far wrong. The real question is whether there is a solid experience hiding beneath the over the top exterior and, luckily, it seems that there is some real power underneath the hood.

The race is on, let high velocity battle commence.

Developed by Black Rock Studios, the team behind the well received Pure, you would expect something a bit different from the norm and they have delivered in style. Rather than just shipping out yet another generic racer they seem to have gone an extra mile to make something a touch more unique. You could look at the game, with high speed races, quirky events, drifting and power ups and think of it as an adult version of Mario Kart, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Split/Second is cunningly presented as a series of TV style episodes, with each series of events bound together by a common theme and culminating with an Elite series event made up of the best racers on the fictional circuit. Each episode has its own introduction and epilogue, to heighten the tension and big up any upcoming events too – and it really does serve to create a fabulous atmosphere to the proceedings not to mention providing a valid link between the often high octane races.

Each episode in the Season mode is broken down into six different events, each of which has fifty points assigned to it depending on where you place. There is also one bonus event per episode that in unlocked by wrecking a set number of cars (which will happen a LOT), and one Elite race that unlocks when you snag a set number of points. Placing third or higher in the Elite race gets you points towards the ongoing championship and progresses you to the next episode as well, meaning you always have something to aim for. At any point you can go back to old races to improve your standing or earn a few more points towards you next unlockable race or car. Doing well also increases the number of race types and tracks available in the Quick Race mode, so it really does make sense to start a Season mode as soon as possible.

The race types are also nicely varied too, ranging from your standard races and time trials all the way up to missile dodging and helicopter destroying. The mix is good enough to stop things from going stale and some of the events are truly challenging when it comes down to it. Although the introduction of new cars means you can always retry old events with a better ride should you feel the need to.

The only racer where you have to keep an eye on falling planes.

The racing itself pretty much follows the standard pattern for arcade racers, as you are required to zip through each course while drifting around corners and drafting behind your rivals. The difference here is that every positive action will gradually fill your power bar, so the more drifting, jumps and close calls you take part in, the more of an advantage you can acquire. The power bar is really the game's main selling point as with it you can activate any number of in-game events called Power Plays. Unlike traditional power ups though, these are determined by static objects on the track and your rivals' proximity to them. Build up enough power and you will access the level two power play options which provide even more impressive results.

The beauty of the Power Plays is the sheer variety of them and the often ridiculous chains of events they can set in motion. At the press of a button you can have explosives dropped onto the track, blow nearby scenery up, wreck buses into the path of your rivals or even change the entire course. Each course has numerous short cuts to begin with, but the power plays really do come into their own as a total race changer. Hopping from last to first thanks to wiping out the entire opposition with one well placed plane from the sky (no, really) is a very real possibility and means you are never truly out of contention. There really is nothing more exciting than wiping out most of the field with one cleverly timed explosion, or nipping into first place after wrecking the car in front.

Of course the power plays are the main selling point of the game and the one that truly sets it apart from its opposition. The racing itself would soon get dull without it as the majority of the tracks are fairly bog standard once you take away the ability to tear them apart. Not to mention the fact that some of the handling on the cars is dubious at best with cornering seeming like it is happening by degrees at times. The power plays are a double edged sword too, as you are just as likely to get robbed of first place after leading for most of the race, which can be incredibly frustrating. They are however, impressive to watch, but once you have seen them all they just become a means to an end and the races become more of a slog to get through than an entertaining thrill ride. Plus, no matter how well you race, there is always a rival right on your tail, so the rubber banding effect is in full swing which is not really ideal in this kind of racer and it seems like you are rewarded more for well timed power plays than actual skillful racing.

Car plus bomb equals wreck.

You can also hop online and try your hand at destroying some of your friends should you so wish. The action is pretty much the same and suffers from an impressive lack of slowdown, considering how much can be going on at once. With up to eight players able to take on a variety of events, it really helps to expand the game's longevity. The same problems that plague the single player are present here too – where one well timed power play can rob a good player of their podium finish after a near flawless race, which seems especially hard luck. It is a good way of leveling the playing field I guess, but one that feels just a touch too cheap when people are trying to climb the online rankings.

Achievements wise, this is a deceptively lengthy one thousand points, and although you can nab plenty of points just by doing the single player, some of the specific Power Play tasks require more than a hint of luck rather than skill. You will also have to grind out a large number of wrecks and miles, not to mention placing first in every single event which is no small ask. Online you will also have to grind up to level one which might well take more hours than you are prepared to commit. Compared to games like Forza 3 however, this will be a walk in the park for hardened driving gamers though, as long as they can put up with playing the same events over and over.

Split/Second on the whole is a superb arcade racer and one that puts many of its rivals to shame. The only real downside is that once you look past the admittedly impressive selling point, there is not much else to see. It will really come down to how much you can tolerate race after race of blowing stuff up, although if you are anything like me, then it could be a good long while. After all, when does dropping a train on someone ever get dull? For those on the fence then give the demo a try, you will soon be hooked, but do not expect too much more from the full game as you will have pretty much seen it all.

The TV style presentation is spot on, though the race commentary can get a touch stale. Plus, the music is pretty average too.

Great to look at and some of the effects are truly stunning to watch.

Easy to pick up and play, although some of the handling feels a touch heavy at times and the AI can be cheap in terms of power ups and rubber-banding.

A high octane driving game that is occasionally more style than substance, but is no less fun because of that. Repetition sets in eventually, but you will still have a hankering for just one more go.

A neat mix of tasks, but one that is more long winded than it appears at first glance, especially when you have to grind out all of the wins and online ranks.

Split/Second is a total blast and keeps up the pace for race after race. The only problem is that the novelty eventually wears off and the whole thing starts to feel a little shallow. As an arcade racer, this one is hard to beat though, with thrills galore and it is even more fun to dish out some of the pain online too. Give it a whirl and you will not be disappointed, and it may well tide you over until the next glossy, over-the-top alternative comes along to take its place.

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