Reviewed: May 20, 2010
Released: May 18, 2010
When did Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer start making video games? Well they haven’t…or have they? Jerry is in pretty tight with Disney these days and they are responsible for the mega-summer blockbuster action racing game coming to a theater…err…living room near you. While Jerry might not have had any direct input on the explosive Split/Second you can bet his movies were inspirational in the making of this fuel-injected combat racer where the entire world becomes your weapon. I’m still waiting for the level where I can trigger the meteor shower.|
Designed and presented as the next best reality TV show, you play an up and coming racer who goes through an audition (tutorial) before joining the cast of Split/Second, the ultra-violent combat racer where winners are actually survivors and “dead last” takes on a whole new meaning. Sneaking into stores a week ahead of Blur and ModNation Racers, Split/Second takes combat racing to a new level of reality with visuals that leave Burnout in the proverbial dust. Instead of mounting machine guns and rockets to your car, or having these magical power-up icons you drive through, this game uses Power Plays to unleash destruction on the landscape and hopefully your opponents.
As you race along some of the most brilliantly conceived and wickedly cool tracks in any racer to date you will slowly build up your Power Play meter by drifting, drafting, or catching some air from any available jump. The meter has three tiers that can be engaged either individually, or combined for more powerful course changing events. The strategic nuance here is that your weapon is the environment, and even though the icon above the enemy car ahead of you says you can fire doesn’t always mean that car will be affected by the event.
Power Plays may be as simple as a helicopter dropping a bomb on the track, or you might blow up a building or ignite a parked tanker trunk or have some earthmover drag its bucket across the track. You can also combine your attacks to bring down bridges, nuclear cooling towers, a control tower at a runway, or even a recreation of the Space Needle. These mega-events usually crush the competition (for a few moments) and alter the course of the track for future laps. The trick is to dish out as much destruction as possible without getting yourself caught up in the collateral damage.
The graphics are as intense as they are amazing with car models that look like they were ripped from the most recent Burnout game. The races scream by at a blistering 60fps with all sorts of lighting and filter effects, but nothing can top the sheer amount of destruction taking place on the screen. Fireballs erupt, smoke and debris are flying everywhere, a bus gets tossed at you as you are forced to drive under a collapsing overhead highway or a massive freighter slides down the pier toward you or a 200’ smokestack slowly topples toward the track below, its shadow slowly enveloping you.
Visuals are totally enhanced with some of the best 3D audio I’ve heard in a long time. Not only can you hear the cars sneaking up on your six, you can tell which side they are trying to pass, and it may be time to upgrade that subwoofer if you want to feel the epic explosions you are about to experience. But nothing can prepare you for the blockbuster score that gives the game a suitable Network TV reality show flair.
Presented as a single season of 12 episodes, each with several races of various event types, Split/Second offers a great deal of content with an unexpected variety. You have your standard races where you only need to finish in the top 3, and then you have Detonator racers where you must complete a speed lap under a certain time while the director unleashes a continuous stream of Power Plays at you.
You also have some wickedly challenging survival races where an attack chopper chases you around the track unleashing waves of guided missiles that you must dodge. And then you have races that require you to pass drone cars along with these giant trucks that are tossing explosive barrels at you. The more you play the more you unlock including new cars, events within an episode, and eventually the next episode, complete with booming announcer guy saying, “Next time on Split/Second…” and then you get a fast video montage of what you have to look forward to.
The game controls like a dream, and while precision is only really required in the time trial laps it still pays to learn the tracks and know when and where to drift and powerslide around turns. It keeps your speed up and earns valuable Power Play juice. In single player the racer AI exhibits some classic rubber-banding that keeps each race very close right up until the end. This also means that any mishap on your part during the final lap could mean losing the race.
Multiplayer is the obvious solution to the AI problem, although you are limited to only two players in local split-screen, or four players online and you can only drive cars you have unlocked in the season mode. It’s still a “blast” to play and humans are always a bit more unpredictable and vengeful in these types of games.
Split/Second is kicking off a deluge of racing games and so far it is shaping up to be the best of the bunch. With blistering racing speeds and explosive environmental destruction there isn’t much not to like here. Even when you lose you can’t wait to jump back in and try again because no race ever plays out the same way twice.
I’m a big fan of combat racing all the way back to the days of WipeOut, Twisted Metal, and NASCAR Rumble, but using the environment as your weapon is a genius concept that has totally changed the face of the genre. Part game, part reality TV show, part summer blockbuster movie; I can’t recommend Split/Second highly enough. I can only hope that the show gets picked up for a second season.