Released by Black Rock Studios last year at almost the exact same time as Bizarre Studios Blur, Split/Second was the other high concept racer of 2010. Neither game was a massive success at retail and while they garnered critical success, they did little to win over racing game fans who continued to wait for the Need for Speeds and Gran Turismo’s which were released later in they year. What a shame then that Split/Second is such a fantastic game. Now that commentators are getting some perspective on the long awaited but sterile and soulless Gran Turismo’s shortcomings, Split/Seconds over the top action and bombast is all the more appealing.
The premise is ridiculous. A city is filled with explosives which racers trigger to eliminate their opponents. Skyscrapers collapse, power plants combust and planes crash onto the race course as you swerve your gloriously shiny car through implausibly small gaps in the exploding scenery. As you drift, draft or dodge hazards on the course you build a meter which allows you to trigger more of these explosions for use against your opponents. Each level has one major event which you trigger by filling your meter and using at the appropriate moment. These level 3 “powerplays” usually change the course completely, often creating whole new routes while treating the players to Roland Emmerich levels of apocalyptic destruction.
The game is gorgeous throughout. Visual effects dominate over pure detail. While the world itself is well crafted and textured, its the particles, weather, dirt, smoke and sheer sense of speed that make the game thrilling to watch. Playing the game, the visuals blur into a smear as your vision narrows to the racing line ahead of you and you often miss the best aspects of the levels but its a game that surprises you each time your load it up again and experience the first thrilling seconds of a race.
Split/Second’s first impression is so strong and its visual aesthetic so striking that it has shaken me out of a racing game ennui that I have been afflicted with for years. Its pure arcade thrills make it a spiritual successor to adrenaline racers like WipEout and Burnout but the racing and handling has the sheer joy of Outrun. However, like all of those games its best played in small doses as extended play highlights some of its shortcomings. The effects become repetitive, the rubber band AI is frustrating and the music is crushingly dull. Despite this, if you’re bored of dull, stodgy driving simulations then I can’t recommend this game enough. The perfect antidote to dull January evenings, Split/Second will collapse a building on top of your boredom.