Review: Split/Second (PS3)

SplitSecondReview

Title: Split/Second
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: May 18, 2010
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Black Rock Studios
Price: $59.99

We first saw Split/Second in motion at E3 of 2009, and I was instantly excited for what the possibilities were. Even though the game was early, the driving already felt solid, and with the addition of destructible environments and the possibilities of actually changing the tracks themselves, the standard template for an arcade racer had obviously been thrown out the window. Hit the link to find out if they actually succeeded in setting a new standard in arcade racers.

Gameplay:
If you’ve seen the movie “Death Race,” you’ll get the idea behind the story mode of this game. You’ll race through 12 “Episodes,” which are groupings of 6 different events, including races and “hot laps.” Finish with enough points, and you’ll unlock the next episode, and most likely another vehicle to use as well. All of the vehicles are fictional, and all have pretty different ratings for Top Speed, Drifting, Acceleration, and Strength.

I’ve already seen a lot of comparisons to games like Burnout Paradise and the upcoming Blur, but these comparisons aren’t valid. Blur is essentially a kart racer at its core, and Burnout Paradise is an open-world racer. Split/Second, in my mind, is more of an evolution of the first few titles in the Burnout series, although instead of going from Point-A to Point-B, you’ll still take laps around a track. But this is where the similarities end. The racing is actually secondary, as the gameplay relies heavily on your strategic use of “Power Plays.” You’ll build-up a meter to store up to 3 Power Play instances. But, if you have all 3 filled, you can save those up to use as a “Route Changer,” which results in a track-changing explosion. The regular Power Plays are triggered by hitting either Square or X when a blue icon appears over an opponent. There are many chances to set one off, and each instance is used to attempt to wreck your opponents (I’ve even had a few that wrecked 5 opponents at once.) This is the main mechanic of the racing mode in the game. I tried to go through an entire race without using any Power Plays, and even though, I held my own, it’s pretty obvious that you have to use them in order to win races. Even drafting behind opponents quite a bit (which actually fills your meter,) there were a couple of opponents that I couldn’t catch-up to no matter what.

The refreshing thing to see is that the AI actually attacks other AI opponents, and not just you. The tracks are very “kinetic” throughout the races, and usually the route changes are actually pretty significant. To become proficient with Split/Second though, you’ll really have to work at memorizing certain aspects of each of the 12 tracks. Some Power Plays react differently than others. Some include blowing a bus up, that will roll into traffic, while others include bringing a structure down, or sending a a swinging girder into traffic, swiping opponents into the wall if timed correctly.

Overall, controls are great. It definitely falls on the side of “arcadey,” but the physics seem pretty dead-on. My biggest complaint is the drifting mechanic, which even after about 7 hours of gameplay, I’m having a difficult time getting-through a successful drift without slamming into the wall. Unfortunately, you need to drift to help build your Power Play meters up, so when using a better handling car, your meters suffer. It’s a minor annoyance so far, but I do worry that it could be a hindrance later down the line.

Other modes include Aerial Assault, which takes you, without any AI opponents, in “hot laps” while a helicopter fires missiles at you, which you of course have to try and avoid. It uses a combo system to build points up quickly and is pretty frenetic. Later-on, you’ll have your chance at revenge, as you’ll be able to build-up your meters to bounce those missile back at the chopper to take it out of the sky. Another mode is “Demolition,” which has you race a “hot lap” while the game sets a bunch of the Power Plays on you automatically. This is definitely the craziest mode, as explosions are almost constantly going-off as you race around the track to try and beat a predetermined time. The last racing mode is a variant of Aerial Assault, but this time you’ll be making attempts to pass huge semi’s that drop explosive barrels that you need to dodge, as well as AI racers to shove in the way of those barrels.

On top of all that, Black Rock has also included Split-Screen play, which I have not had the chance to try. Along those same lines, full online play is available, with public and private matches allowing you and 7 others to play in any of the modes listed above. Unfortunately, at the time of this review, online was not functioning, so I can’t report on that. I did see, however, that you can send an invite to someone on your friends list, as well as type the name of anyone else in as well.

Visuals:
This is a beautiful game from top-to-bottom. The framerate is consistent, and the texture work is crisp and detailed. Where it really shines is, of course, the explosions and destruction. Yes, the larger events are “canned,” but blowing a building up really never gets old. There’s always something happening during the race, and you’ll never get bored with what you’re seeing. Some may get annoyed with the visual style though, as they purposely use a gradient filter to make things look gritty, and the borders of the screen actually fade to black. Also, though there’s a lot of detail on the opponent vehicles, Anti Aliasing does seem to be lacking a bit, but again, that’s a very minor annoyance within this beautiful package.

Audio:
The explosions aren’t only impressive visually, as the sounds during the race go right after your speakers and never let go. Some of the audio does seem lacking however, as the engine sounds seem to cut in and out occasionally, and it does seem like they could have had the surround more around a bit more. Custom Soundtracks are not an option, and the in-game music, while good (and it reacts to what’s happening in the race,) isn’t memorable at the end of the day. Your subwoofer will definitely get a workout with this one though, and you’ll know what I mean the first time to set-off charges on an entire overpass, as 18-wheelers and buses fly at you from the left side. Yeah, it definitely gets the adrenaline pumping.

Conclusion:
With ModNation Racers, Blur, and Split/Second all hitting in the same month, I really do wonder if any one of the three will become the dominant racer. While all three are very different, all of them offer a unique take on the genre. With that, I am really enjoying Split/Second so far. The racing is varied and intense, and definitely fills my need for a Ridge Racer/Burnout solution.

The real hook is the addition of the Power Plays and the fact that you can change the route of each track, and it works. Even though the route changes are canned, there is still a lot of variety, and the fact that underneath all of this arcade-goodness lies a game that requires a good deal of strategy is what sets this game apart from others in the genre. I can’t wait to try the online mode out, as I can definitely see some insanely intense matches happening. I guess my underlying annoyance would be that there could be a lot more personality when it comes to your character and the AI opponents in the game, so you’d actually care about your driver and become more emotionally involved. Overall though, Split/Second is an incredibly solid and enjoyable arcade racer that brings a welcome twist to the genre. Highly recommended!

Score:
9.0

Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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  • Anonymous

    I picked this game up a while ago for £8 (about $13) and I got an enjoyable and different kind of racer. I’m glad I got this game.

    Your review is spot on once again.