Black Rock Studio/Disney Interactive
I was facing an upper tier “episode” called Splashdown, which featured mainly waterfront-based maps. This track in particular, Ferry Wharf, consisted of a sprawling course laid out amongst cargo ships, old dusty docks, and—you guessed it—ferries.
I gunned the powerful engine of my Hanzo Indus V8R, which was fast, had highly responsive handling, and looked like a cross between a Dodge Charger and a Nissan Skyline. It’s comparatively light frame belied its bulky look, reminding me that I had to avoid the larger explosions of the course. I revved my engine and when the light went green, charged forward from the rear of the eight car pack.
As we negotiated the first couple of sharp turns, it became apparent that I’d chosen the wrong car, as the Indus was not well suited for drifting around tight corners. This led me into a panic state and as I slid back into eight place, as soon as my vehicle’s HUD indicated that my first demolitions trigger was available, I pressed down on it hard. An explosion appeared ahead of me on cue, but it had been too soon, allowing for my adversaries to deftly skirt around it and out of harm’s way.
Since this was an Elimination bout, I looked on haplessly as the ticker ticked down…three…two…one…BOOM! My car erupted in a fiery ball of twisted metal since Elimination bouts took out each car at the rear of the pack in successive countdowns until there was only one left—obviously the sole survivor of the contest, and therefore the winner.
I licked my wounds, went back to the drawing board, and selected a car that I’d liked from the start of the game, the sleek Cobretti 455GT. The 455GT was one of the beginning vehicles and therefore I’d driven it a lot, and learned how to handle it the best. To me, it was the perfect confluence of agility and quickness, and although it possessed a fragile frame, even more so than the Indus V8R, its wasp-like fleetness and crisp handling greatly negated the need for a sturdy chassis.
The race began anew and I bolted forward once again. This time, the same sharp corners that I’d clumsily blundered around saw me glide through like a ghostly gust of wind. I deftly drifted and drafted behind my opponents, biding my time while my Power Play meter filled up. Since my car didn’t have the raw horsepower of some of the more muscular cars in the race, I had been relegated to the middle part of the pack for the majority of the race, but that was about to change…
As the frontrunners and I sped down a particularly lengthy portion of a long dockside expanse, my 455GT’s HUD flashed a red indicator up ahead, prompting me to press down on my Level 2 Power Play activator. An immense cargo ship, docked nearby, groaned as its crane swung suddenly swung around, carrying with it a large batch of metal girders, which it promptly and unceremoniously dropped onto my ill-fated foes, crushing them beneath tons of good ol’ American steel.
My nimble sports car elegantly skirted around the shattering masses of twisted metal and in moments I was careening over the finish line in first place. I’d finally succeeded in making it to the final episode, but now faced a championship match up against the game’s most skilled contestants, and unlike the contestants I’d just defeated, these cut throats were ultra-aggressive and prone to rubbing out any new kids on the block…
That game just happened a little earlier today, and while typing this review, I can still feel remnants of the adrenaline that it produced. That’s because Split/Second is that kind of racing game: It’s all about creating riveting moments which you’ll remember long after you turn the game off and power down your gaming PC.
Split/Second, developed by Black Rock Studio and backed by Disney Interactive, is a preverbal shot in the arm of the rather stale racing genre. While echoes of Burnout and Blur are seen here, Split/Second deviates widely from those titles because of its unique hook—instead of throwing the cars onto the tracks to make them vie against each other and the environments, in Split/Second the tracks are the enemy as well.
Split/Second is played against a faux reality TV show backdrop, where I imagined evil execs (ala Running Man) pitting racing competitors against one another over the course of a multitude of episodes. The twist is that every racer has access to triggers which can detonate parts of the track, based on three levels of Power Plays that can be accumulated. The Power Play meter is powered up by drifting, drafting, and ramming other vehicles off the road. Level 1 power plays are the most common, and usually result in random things such things as cars exploding out onto the track, or a dump track spontaneously dumping a bunch of debris in front of racers.
Patient racers, however, can save up their meters and gain access to Level 2 Power Plays. These are the major game changers, and can activate jaw-dropping calamitous catastrophes, such as gigantic control towers falling across the track, whole buildings collapsing right in front of you, and the like. Alternately, they can trigger alterations of the track itself, opening up new routes for vehicles to access. But if you’re not dexterous or timely enough, many of these will turn your car into so much scrap metal.
No, there is no car tuning, but there doesn’t have to be in my opinion. Black Rock Studio has fashioned Split/Second after the insanely fun arcade racers that you used to see in your local video arcade parlor, and the result is an unabashedly fast and loose thrill ride. Coupled with Disney’s cinematic sensibilities, and you have one whopper of a game which plays out not unlike a Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay blockbuster.
What surprised me the most, however, was that despite all of the fast and furious style and movie-like hijinks and bluster, there is a competent and capable racing engine underneath it all. The cars all handle quite differently from one another, forcing players to contemplate which cars might match up well with certain tracks. The vehicles also feel weighty and solid as opposed to feeling like they’re floating around on the road.
In all, Split/Second is a boisterous, explosive, and loud racing game, that despite its’ unabashedly arcady style, has more underneath its hood than one might initially suspect. It has a highly polished, slick presentation, and its gameplay is accessible but not easily mastered. It also has that undefinable X-factor, that indescribable gestalt that all great games possess. It is for me, the funnest racing game I’ve ever played on both the gaming PC and console, and I highly recommend it to non-tuner snobs who want to break away from the pack of generic racing games and simply enjoy something different. It has also recently been released on Steam so that a whole new contingent of gamers can enjoy all of the carefully calculated chaos that Split/Second has to offer.
Kane’s suggestion: Although Split/Second is a few years old, its graphics still look cutting edge, even by today’s standards. This is definitely a game that is great for showing off to your friends, so playing it on a powerful laptop with a wireless Xbox controller (or two since Split/Second features split screen play) is highly recommended:
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