On the console
Split/Second is full of edge-of-your-seat moments that will make even the most hardened arcade racing fan sit up and take notice. This was the game that allowed you to literally drop an entire building on your opponents, all while you had to dodge falling bridges, cars blowing up and unruly traffic jams. It was an incredible show piece that is hard to get out of your head. On the PSP, Split/Second is an ugly, forgettable mess that feels out of place on a handheld known for its stellar racing games.
In case you missed the console game released last May, Split/Second is a fictional TV show where the hardest of the hard race for money and prizes. But this isn't your father's race; it's an ultra-violent contest with deadly explosions happening around every turn. Come in first and you'll earn enough points to take on the Elite racers, a band of professional drivers just waiting to dismantle your car.
For the most part this Disney-published game is like many other arcade racing games on the market. You choose from a collection of fake cars, choose a course and get pumped up with whatever annoying nu-metal song just happens to be playing in the background. But Split/Second is different. Sick and tired of people passing you by? Do you want to catch up with the pack in a hurry? Perhaps it's time you bring out the heavy artillery.
In Split/Second players can literally blow up buildings to prevent their opponents from coming in first. And that's not all, cars are rigged with explosives, bombs will be dropped from helicopters and bridges will collapse at your whim. While you never throw anything from your car (it's not a kart racer), your command over the world around you is truly impressive.
It's also exciting to see how the race course itself changes from lap to lap. You may start out racing through the streets, but before long you'll be racing through buildings, underground and even on the tarmac while an airplane lands. Every level features its own over-the-top antics that feel like they came straight out of a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. Even on the PSP's small screen, these explosive events are breathtaking.
To keep things interesting, Split/Second offers players a number of interesting game types. Aside from the standard racing, players will also have time trials that involve avoiding missiles and other debris. In other mode you fight against a timer that is eliminating the last place racer. None of these game modes are specific to Split/Second, but they work well with the amount of explosive action going on at all times.Usually I would be all for this wanton disregard for the rules of the road. Stopping your competition with a falling house is the kind of concept I wouldn't be able to resist. But this PSP port manages to suck most of the fun out of what should have been a can't miss concept. The core idea may have been retained, but it comes at the cost of an enjoyable experience.
Most of the game's problems can be linked back to the crummy gameplay. No matter which car is selected, race fans are in for a frustrating time of over-sensitive steering and fidgety driving controls. Even after the player has managed to wrangle in the controls, the smallest wrong turn will send the car flying. And if that wasn't enough, the game is often grossly inconsistent with what will make a car explode. I have run my car directly into a wall at full speed only to bounce off it, while in the very same race I merely dinged another car and was sent packing. It all leads to a disappointing experience that even a falling house can't improve.
For those gamers who can get past the problematic gameplay, Split/Second offers a surprising amount of content. The single-player mode features dozens of events and most of the tracks found in the original console game. There's nothing groundbreaking about the story mode, the player goes from one group of events to the next earning points for every win. For much of the game the computer takes it easy on you, perhaps it's taking it easy because it knows about your handicap.
The game's presentation is solid, doing a good job of recreating the look and feel of these destructive race tracks. Even though the frame rate dips a bit (and there are occasional pauses in the action), it's impressive to watch a building blow up in the distance and then fall on the guy in front of you. Sadly not every element of the game's visuals are as sharp as the backgrounds. The vehicles are laughably rendered. They are boxy and look like painted cardboard boxes. The ugly cars stick out in the otherwise good looking world.
I take issue with the way the box art sells the game's visuals. On the back of the box you get four screen shots that are clearly from the home console version of Split/Second. They do not represent what this PSP game looks like, and Disney should be ashamed for misleading their customers. There's nothing wrong with the way the game looks, let the PSP visuals speak for themselves.
On top of the lengthy single-player mode, gamers can race against three of their close friends. Unfortunately these friends will need to be extremely close, because this game only supports four-player Ad Hoc. Even then, there are plenty of multiplayer options to choose from. It's a shame the game doesn't support more players, races aren't nears as exiting with only four people competing.
Split/Second has some interesting ideas going for it, but is ultimately marred by a lack of strong execution. Even with some movie-quality explosions and edge-of-your-seat action, the controls bring this racer to a screeching halt. With so many worthwhile arcade racers already on Sony's handheld, it's hard to recommend this disappointing port. Split/Second proves yet again that when it comes to making PSP games, a watered-down console port isn't going to cut it.