As I have mentioned before, I am not a huge racing game fan. While there have been some games that have really caught my attention, I do not tend to anticipate them or even consider buying them on their release date. I did not even buy Burnout Paradise when it came out, and I was a huge fan of the previous game in the series.
Why am I starting this review this way? I wanted you to understand just how rare it is for me to get as excited about the release of a racing game as I was for Split Second. From the very first trailer I saw of the game, I was intrigued. A racing game where you can trigger explosions and other obstacles to take out your opponents was intriguing. The demo piques my interest, and between that and my position with EDG, I decided this game was going to be the exception to buying racing games on day one.
Must say I am glad I made that exception.
It all starts normal enough
At its core, Split Second is a rather simple arcade racer. You are competing in Split Second, a reality TV series where racers try to advance through a twelve episode season, striving for the ultimate prize: the season championship. Each episode is broken into six races, and you earn credits based on how you finish each race. These credits not only unlock new cars, but they are necessary to unlock each episodes Elite Race. The Elite Race is the sixth and final race for each episode in which you race against the Split Second elite. If you don’t finish within the target place on the race, you do not advance to the next episode.
So far, this is probably sounding like a pretty standard racer, but Split Second is anything but. Two main things separate the game from other racers: Power Plays and insane race modes.
All about the Power Plays
There is no doubt about it: Power Plays are what catches everyone’s attention when they first play Split Second. While racing, you gain “power” by performing successful drifts around turns, drafts behind other racers and jumps. When you get enough power to fill a third of your gauge, you can activate various devices that can give you the edge in races. These can range from exploding tankers to helicopters dropping debris on the track, all designed to wreck you opponents so you can take the lead. On caveat, however; you are not immune to any Power Plays you activate, and if you are not careful, all you will manage to do by activating one is wreck yourself.
Basic Power Plays are only the beginning. If you gain enough power to fill the entire gauge, you can activate the Level 2 Power Plays. These are much more powerful; instead of just blowing up a tanker, you may take out an entire cooling tank, along with any drivers who decided to try and take a shortcut by driving underneath it.
There is also another type of Level 2 Power Play: the route changer. Regular Power Plays can open short cuts in the course, allowing you to catch up with your opponents. Level 2 Power Plays can actually completely reshape sections of the track itself, changing the route everyone has to race. Maybe you take out a section of a bridge, lowering it to a different road that eventually snakes back to the main track. Maybe you blow up the supports underneath ship you were racing underneath, creating a jump that leads to racing on the top of an aircraft carrier. You may divert racers onto a runway, forcing you to avoid a landing aircraft while pull ahead of other racers. These route changes take what was already a crazy racing game and make it absolutely insane.
If the Power Plays are what set Split Second apart, it’s the unusual race modes that will keep you coming back for more.
Never raced like that before
Like most arcade racers, Split Second has several different race modes. Three of them are basic variations we have seen before. The standard race is pretty self explanatory. Eliminator starts the race out with a countdown clock, and every time the clock hits 0, the last place car is eliminated from the race. Then there is Detonator, the Split Second version of Burnout’s burning lap; you race one particular type of car for 1 lap, trying to get the best time as Power Plays are automatically triggered ahead of you. The other race modes, however, are like nothing you have ever seen.
Air Strike:You are the only racer on the track. A helicopter is flying overhead, firing missiles at the track in front of you. It is your job to avoid the missile strikes, and the better job you do of that, the higher you score from each wave of missiles. Take a direct hit from a missile strike or enough collateral damage from a missile wave, you crash. Survive three waves in a row, and you increase your points multiplier, which keeps increasing by one for every three above that. Every wreck resets the combo multiplier. It is your job to obtain as high a score as possible in three lives/wrecks.
- Air Strike Revenge: Like Air Strike, you are racing against a helicopter firing missiles at the track. Unlike Air Strike, you get to fight back. You build up power like you would for activating Power Plays, with the exception of the fact that you also build it for avoiding splash damage from missiles. Fill up one power bar, and you can deflect one missile back at the copter. Build up enough for a Level 2 Power Play, and you deflect four missiles back at the copter. Only issue is each wreck resets your power meter, so if you are saving up for the Level 2 and wreck, you have wasted the power. The object is to take out the copter as quickly as you can.
- Survival: You are racing down the track with several big rigs. The object is to pass as many of these rigs as possible, scoring similarly to how you score in Air Strike, with each three rigs you pass building up your combos meter. The race starts with a countdown timer, and you gain bonus time for each rig you pass. The problem is each rig is dropping exploding barrels behind it: the blue ones will slow you down, while the reds ones will force you to wreck. Once the timer hits 0, you hit sudden death; every barrel the rigs drop is red, and your next wreck will end the race.
You unlock these various modes by racing within the various seasons. Once you have participated in a particular mode, you unlock it for quick play.
The flaws in the design
As good as Split Second is, it is not without its faults. The biggest issue is its rather bland multiplayer experience. There are only three modes available for online play: Race, Elimination and Survival Battle. You have to unlock vehicles in the seasons, so if you have not played enough to unlock the better cars, you will not stand chance. There appears to be no matchmaking to connect you only with players who have the same vehicle ratings unlocked you do. The lobby system leaves many things to be desired, and you will start to see the same tracks over and over. You can set up private matches, but outside of that, the only real bright spot in the multiplayer is Survival Battle, which throws all the racers into a Survival race, forcing you to deal with both the semis and the other racers.
Lack of multiplayer is not the only problem. There is almost no vehicle customization you get to choose from a few colors for the cars, and that is all. You cannot change the load out at all, which is disappointing when compared with the customization options of Pure, Blackrock Studio’s first entry in the racing game field. There also are not a lot of tracks available in the game, and some even manage to incorporate sections of track you have already raced, so the game can start to feel repetitive.
There is one other problem with Split Second. The graphics and transitions between modes of play help to enforce the reality TV feel, but that is really about it. Sure, you get a little bit of “Next episode/This episode” outro and intro as you move between episodes, but that is about it. Blackrock should have included a little more to really build on the TV theme. It may seem like a minor thing to point out, but its absence stands out during game play.
Split Second has its faults. It also is one of the most unique racing experiences I have ever had. If you are okay with the lack of customization and bare-bones multiplayer, you will find a lot to like. Split Second gets a 4.5 out of 5 stars. [starreview tpl=46 size=’30’]