May 31, 2010

Review – Split/Second

Filed under: Reviews — Tags: , , , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 11:28 am

Racing around the track while a helicopter launches waves of missiles, which toss the car into a constant series of emergency drifts, I finally put a name to what Split/Second had first reminded me of when I’d tried an earlier build last year.

The arcade flavor of the game – that’s the part requiring players to dodge a near endless chain of explosions while trying to stick to the track – took me back to the first time I played the 2001 revamp of Spy Hunter – a game where the mission action often played second fiddle to controls that made whipping around levels more enjoyable than using the spy toys strapped to the frame.

The Michael Bay minded challenge modes are merely extras that Split/Second adds to break up the pacing of its televised Death Race sans the skulls and inmate motif. Every stage within the game feeds on the central premise of a track wired to explode at every turn like a starving man, and what this creates is a game where even something as simple as a time trial engages the player with a racing experience where survival is a victory in itself.

Mind you, crossing the finish line first is still high on the to-do list.

Split/Second captures a floating grip that still brings certain real world considerations to the equation – situations where driving off a flaming jump doesn’t allow you to slam into a wall. The game is merciless in punishing sloppy driving, demanding that players master the art of the drift, if not to shorten their racing time, then to at least build up the meter allowing the chaos to continue.

Episodes within the full season of Split/Second offer challenges from Death Race’s drawing board.

Dodge missile attacks from the show’s helicopter gunship and eventually earn a chance to strike back; use other cars as fodder while working to pass rigs dropping exploding barrels – these added challenges are a straightforward grab for an arcade feel that offer an escape from the grind of constant racing.

Combat car games typically have little give in the way a car can bend around a course – bullets and missiles tend to fly straight most days, often augmented with magically striking weapons that leave a cheap taste on the lips. Split/Second shifts the emphasis, rewarding players through their handling of the cars and tests presented by the track, giving back the means to use the track itself against the competition to reach the finish line first.

Those cars are all fantasy rides, the game itself an evolution on the way Hot Wheels toys appear in commercials, using the lack of license to create rides that aim to look as slick as possible while explosions throw debris at the windshield. There’s no shortage of broken steel and bits of rubber hitting the car at all times.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom found within vehicular combat racers, the tracks of Split/Second are wired to explode through a wide array of objects from everyday life. There are two levels of explosions players can trigger by building up a three level gauge – the first two levels setting off street level destruction while the coveted full gauge turns orange and offers a chance to cause a scale of destruction that dramatically changes the layout of the tracks. The gauge fills as players get air from jumps, draft behind other opponents, and drift around turns.

Since there are not many jumps on the tracks, drafting and drifting become vital, and drifting really becomes the bread and butter for every event.

The drift is dramatic, almost overwhelming at first, requiring a constant balance that takes the finger off the gas only for a few precious seconds before gunning the engine again when the path straightens. Most of the vehicles give drift with every overturn as well as the player’s proximity to explosions – if the explosion doesn’t finish you off, the impact blast that tosses you into a panicked drift tries hard to smash you into the nearest wall.


“Surviving the flaming industrial chaos unleashed by others is every bit as enjoyable as collapsing heaps of wreckage back on the competition.”

Where most games throw in a couple of insanely tight turns per track to force a reason for drifting, Split/Second offers opportunities to shorten the ride via its use, but also brings a track design that leaves players often searching desperately for drifting opportunities.

There’s an interesting balance between stretches where the car sticks to the road, but where turns are meant to throw the car into that potentially chaotic spin. Adding competitors and giving everyone the opportunity to light the match finds plenty of powder for the explosion on that solid core design.

The game is plenty of fun to play alone, aided by a point system that leaves players unlocking features for days while working through the season – but the multiplayer angle that gives opportunity for live players to detonate every inch of the track seals the deal. Surviving the flaming industrial chaos unleashed by others is every bit as enjoyable as collapsing heaps of wreckage back on the competition.

The game even offers an elimination mode that removes the last placed player as the clock counts down in repeating loops until only one remains.


“The tracks are meticulously designed to turn every element of civilization into a weapon – runaway construction equipment, collapsing buildings, avalanches, crashing planes, and plenty more from a game that suffers no lack of imagination in creating long and detailed courses that beg for serious memorization skills.”

In all the grit and mayhem of city life presented through the tracks of Split/Second, there were several times I was reminded of the clean aesthetic of the WipEout franchise. Mind you, Split/Second has nothing on the speed of anti-gravity racing, rather offering a speed that fits the action of the tracks on display like a glove.

Tracks return through the numerous episodes of Split/Second’s season, with different portions opened as the season develops.

The structural layout is quite reminiscent of WipEout however, with levels unlocked via a point system, and cars distinguished by gauges indicating speed, drift, strength, acceleration – experimentation finds some rare necessity here.

Split/Second also doesn’t drop the ball by simply littering the track with gas canisters. The tracks are meticulously designed to turn every element of civilization into a weapon – runaway construction equipment, collapsing buildings, avalanches, crashing planes, and plenty more from a game that suffers no lack of imagination in creating long and detailed courses that beg for serious memorization skills. Of course memorizing the track in this game gives little insight into exactly which opportunities the competition might use against you.

The explosive preoccupation saddles Split/Second with a one-trick pony facade that doesn’t find root in the way tracks are so dramatically affected by every race and stages recreate environments that successfully conceal hazards around each bend.

Split/Second’s trick is the trick that keeps on tricking, where the outcome is never certain, and yet the chaos that makes that a reality also enables players to turn the tide back into their favor – a game where survival is a high on equal footing with placing in the winner’s circle.

DeveloperBlack Rock Studio
PublisherDisney Interactive Studios
System – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Microsoft Windows (PlayStation 3 Reviewed)
Release Date – May 18, 2010

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review


  1. I was pretty close to buying this last week when it dropped to $39.99 on Amazon… but better judgement has forced me to wait a little longer for the $29.99 price range! (I’m not the biggest racing fan… but I do enjoy small bursts of racing goodness.) Unfortunately I can’t race against you, as I’d be getting the game for the Xbox 360. Maybe I should pop in Pure today (seeing it’s been sitting on my shelf… unopened…), Argh!

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — May 31, 2010 @ 2:21 pm

  2. Since I’m not into Racing games this (and Blur) haven’t been on my radar.

    Still, tahnks for the review. Have to keep informed on my #1 hobby.

    Comment by EdEN — May 31, 2010 @ 3:26 pm

  3. Admittedly I can get dragged back into racing games pretty easy. My defense on this one is that even my girl loved it, in fact it was difficult getting the controller back.

    Comment by Jamie Love — May 31, 2010 @ 3:37 pm

  4. Gaming with your significant other is always great so if this game did that for you, all the better.

    Right now I’m feeling the burn from the “HD Tax” since every 5 PS3 games means 1 less Wii purchase or 2 DS games…

    Comment by EdEN — June 1, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

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