At its core, Split/Second
is a racing game. What is unique about this racing game, however, is the action. By having the game based on a TV series, Black Rock Studios set themselves up to milk everything that is glamorous about Hollywood: fancy computer graphics and a ton of money to spoil your set with. It allows for just the kind of over-the-top danger and explosions that you would expect from a television show.
The set you play on is rigged with explosives of small to large variety. They can effect your track in a small magnitude - such as leaving rubble on the street - to a much larger one of a building smashing down and completely changing the course of the track. At every corner you turn on the tracks provided in Split/Second, there is the potential for major destruction and the threat of crashing violently. Better yet: drifting, drafting, jumping, and coming into close encounters will fill your power play bar allowing you to trigger these explosions on others and watch them crash violently in slow motion while you race past the flames.
Triggering a power play is not as simple as pressing the appropriate button. Well, technically it is as simple as that. Triggering one effectively, however, is another story. As you race around the tracks and get a hang for both the course and the placement of power plays, you'll learn which power plays conduct what kind of explosions and be able to use that knowledge to your advantage.
So, eventually you will recognize that a hovering helicopter can be triggered to have an explosive barrel drop down at the opportune moment. You'll discover that power plays located around corners are usually explosions that - if triggered at the appropriate time - can send an opponent slamming into the neighboring wall. Some power plays are short cuts, and others will completely destroy parts of the track to create a new pathway. Each track is littered with power plays like these, waiting to destruct or change the track even further. It makes every race a unique one.
This action is the main appeal to Split/Second. It's intense, and requires vigorous training from the gamer to hone their skills so that a slight waver of the thumb on the joystick can respond to the sudden swinging wrecking ball coming towards the windshield. Behind the scenes, however, Split/Second provides so much more. Multiplayer is obviously a given. Even my assumption that playing on the PlayStation 3 would provide lacking volumes of competition was debunked. What I found to be most intriguing and innovative on behalf of the developing team at Black Rock, however, was how versatile and equally addictive the other gameplay modes proved to be. They weren't just fillers for the $60 price tag; they were game modes I consistently wanted to play.
There are a series of episodes in each season that you must make progress through in order to qualify for the subsequent seasons. Each episode filters though a different game mode, maintaining the competitive feel in the racing aspect of the game. I love racing games, but I have to admit that the same song and dance gets boring after some time. Black Rock figured out an easy and yet innovative way to solve that issue: diverse gameplay. Each mode is just as appealing as the next.For instance: modeled after the Bad Boys II scene (amongst other films), Survival mode has you racing past rigs while explosive barrels tumble carelessly off the back. Each rig you pass will boost your time limit, but you'll have to avoid the red barrels if you don't want to crash. Airstrike and Air Revenge pit you against a chopper that attempts to aim missiles at you. Air Revenge will let you trigger a command to send missiles flying back if you can avoid enough of the targets. More akin to traditional races but with an added feeling of pressure, Elimination mode will have you scrambling for first place from the start. Whereas you may not feel discouraged from a sloppy turn or even a crash in Race mode, the clock is ticking in Elimination making every second really count. Detonator shows off the goods of the power plays. Every power play that can be triggered (minus the few small and unimpressive ones) is triggered as you approach them on the track racing against the time. You'll be confined to use a specific car, which functions dually as a motivator to unlocking them later in the game.
In terms of multiplayer, you can play Elimination, Survival and Race modes. Completing the Single Player campaign first is preferable so that you can unlock the faster, more efficient cars before taking on other players and increasing your online rank. From my experience the multiplayer is just as amusing, if not more so given the general higher levels of aggression (read: slamming into your car instead of just passing you) that real players have to the competitive, yet slightly docile AI players.
Because of all this variety in game play, you'd probably assume that there would need to be some heavy customization involved in terms of your vehicles. While it may be disappointing to some racer fanatics, I think ultimately the decision to scratch that customization in favor of a set vehicle roster is more suited to a game of this nature. Split/Second comes stocked with vehicles of literally all shapes, sizes and specializations. You can choose between the much more grounded and heavy vehicles that sustain damage, or the cars that are lighter on the feet but swift on turns and optimal for drifting. If I'm trying to avoid barrels or missiles, a swifter car will help me swerve in between them. Detonator might call for a heavier car given the amount of explosions that will be going off around you.
The same goes for differences in tracks. If I'm racing on the open Canyons and know that a wider drift might send me flying off a cliff, I might choose to go with a larger vehicle that can stick to the ground. Black Rock has done a good job of covering their angles, and ensuring that they all compliment each other.
Each car handles specifically to a driving style they cater to. There are cars suited for strength that can handle the force of a shockwave after an explosion goes off. Or, if you prefer, cars with faster acceleration will get back on their feet more efficiently than others after a crash. Whatever your car of choice may be, the physics of the distinct vehicles handles impressively. Every minor swivel of the joystick makes an impression, and you have a solid control over your handbraking and drifting.
Aesthetics are another shining quality of Split/Second. The cars themselves are shiny and sleek as you'd imagine, but Black Rock has even visually incorporated your achievements/trophies into your game. Noted by decals all around your car are the icons for each achievement/trophy you've received. Since gamer score seems to be greatly valued to many gamers, this is yet another way to show off your credentials.On a grander scale, the graphics are phenomenal. Explosions are always epic, even the tiny barrels that set off relatively minuscule ones. Filling your power play bar to it's level 2 indicator, however, is well worth the wait. After you've drifted and drafted enough, you can trigger huge explosions that will have power plants erupting, or a tower falling to create a new path on the course. Of course, inevitably someone is caught in the destruction, to their demise and to your enjoyment.
Even the HUD has severe improvements from most racing games. As Game Director Nick Baynes explained to a group of us journalists
, most racing games clutter the screen with unnecessary information. Split/Second's HUD is lined on the rear of your car, and provides very basic information such as your power play bar, lap and placement number. This clears the screen for you to enjoy the full breadth of destruction happening about you, and to gauge your response to the dynamically changing track. Everything about Split/Second is very basic and pleasing, until it comes to the massive and elaborate explosions.
The only issue with Split/Second I found consistently crippling to the gameplay was the option for changing video brightness. You have a very small margin for change before you're being blinded by the light of sun, explosions, and even brightly colored parts of the track. This makes traversing the tracks a difficult process when you cannot distinguish the wall from the road. Occasionally the animation will slip up and you'll magically fly through a previously exploded car or other debris. Taking all of these things into perspective, however, there are ways to manage about the minor inconveniences.
Ultimately I've come to determine this: Split/Second can be easily compared to the fun of destruction in a car-centered game like Burnout 3: Takedown and its successors, with the twist of triggering explosions in your environment as opposed to smashing your car into it. The ridiculous scenarios that Split/Second allows you to create add a much more aggressively competitive feel to the racing game genre, while still maintaining that fundamental quality of a race.