Split/Second Review (Xbox 360)
Split/Second is a pretty straightforward example of modern arcade racing. However, what separates it is the mighty good trick it has up its sleeve.
Split Second allows racers to trigger explosions and traps to destroy the competition. These triggered moments range from small-scale destruction such as blowing up a gas station or overturning a bus to large, route-altering chaos like blowing up a bridge or knocking over an air traffic control tower.
These destructive events, which are earned by drifting, drafting and evading other racers’ traps, are really the sole standout feature of Split Second. But these events tend to make every race play out differently, so it adds a lot more to the game than one might originally think. Plus, deciding whether to save up for the big, route-altering events or deciding instead to use a lot of little traps adds a needed element of strategy to the game.
In case anyone is wondering, the narrator in the game says that these traps exist as part of a reality game show. This flimsy premise is basically just a way to divide up the levels and events -- pretty much the only time you remember that you are racing on a TV show is when the game explicitly reminds you between episodes. It would have been nice of them to flesh this idea out a bit by at least giving the other drivers some personalities, but the game is probably better off without an unnecessary amount of exposition weighing it down.
Beyond the destructible environments, Split Second is pretty straightforward. The handling model in the game is fast and loose, and the emphasis is placed on drifting. The AI is tough, and I like that the AI drivers are able to effectively set off their own traps. However, the game suffers from a little too much rubber banding (which basically means the AI drivers are never too far ahead or behind). It is essentially impossible to break away from the pack or be left behind by it. The game suffers from so much rubber banding that it makes unlocking the upgraded cars almost pointless.
This brings up another issue: the cars. The cars in this game are pretty bland. There seems to be only a few basic types, and each set of cars are generally modeled the same just with varying stats. The starting car in the game looks like a Chevy Camaro on steroids, but the rest of them lack distinct looks -- most just look like slightly altered Lamborghinis. Games in the same genre have given users an ability to toy around with car designs, but the Split Second team did not really come up with any memorable designs for their cars.
Nevertheless, while the car designs may be a little bland for my tastes, they are represented in tremendous detail. This is an impressive looking game in most every aspect. The cars are nicely detailed, but they are at their most impressive when they are being crushed, blown apart or having their parts scattered across the track. The crashes in this game are superb, and a lot of time seems to have been spent making the crashes look as spectacular as possible. Aside from the major wrecks, the cars do not suffer any minor damage, which is a minor complaint. However, there is a nice accumulation of dirt and debris on your car after too many close calls throughout the race.
What may be most impressive about the game’s visuals is how smooth they are from the beginning to the end of a race. The frame rate never stutters, even when I wipe out the rest of my competitors by toppling a massive tower on top of them. I also like that these big traps -- the ones that change the track layout -- happen in real time rather than being shown in a cutaway.
The tracks are also nicely detailed and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In the game, there are sewers, airports, junkyards and nuclear power plants. The tracks are never bland, and they always offer interesting new ways to wreck your opponents. In fact, most of my motivation for plowing through the single-player mode came from the promise of new tracks to blow to bits.
Sound wise, the game is less impressive. The game does offer a nice array of destruction sounds for explosions and wrecks. The announcer, who basically just says "on the next episode of Split Second," is grating even in his limited role. The cars all sound fairly similar and seem to fall into two categories: booming muscle engines or high revving whines. For music, the game forgoes the typical licensed modern rock tracks and uses music that sounds like the orchestral pieces from any number of action movies. It is a choice that neither enhances or detracts from the game as it largely just fades into the background.
The game modes are what you would probably expect: Season, Quick Play and Multiplayer. Within the modes there are different events besides just standard races. There is a Detonator race, where you take a specified car around a track and try to post the quickest lap time while avoiding traps and explosions that are automatically triggered ahead of you. This mode is pretty fun, though in career mode, the gold medal times seem to be unrealistic, which can get frustrating. After that, there is Elimination, where the player in last is eliminated after a certain amount of time. These eliminations continue to occur until there is only one car left. This a fun take on the standard race, and some of my favorite moments in the game come from setting off an explosion that vaults me out of last place with just seconds to spare.
The remaining three types of races are all forgettable and almost become chores to go through in the Season mode. In the Survival race events, you are pitted against semi-trucks that drop exploding barrels. Your goal is to pass as many trucks as possible before you run out of time. This mode is one of the easiest, and as such, there is never any real tension or sense of accomplishment. These events are just something to slog through to get to another race. The next two events, Air Strike and Air Revenge, both involve a helicopter shooting missiles at you. In Air Strike, you have to avoid the missiles. In Air Revenge, you have avoid the missiles and use your boost meter to deflect them back at the helicopter to destroy it as quickly as possible. Yes, I realize that does not really make sense. These modes are also frustrating because the helicopter will often launch missiles in a line across a narrow part of the track, which makes them nearly impossible to avoid.
The game modes stay the same online and are just as fun as they are in single player. The added bonus of the online play is that it eliminates the rubber banding. Of course, without the rubber banding, the player with the best rated car pretty much always wins. It would have been nice to have a sorting system where you play with users who have a similar rank or car rating. This problem is also exacerbated by the fact that, in lieu of actually playing through the game, you can just unlock all of the cars through an Xbox Live Marketplace purchase.
Split/Second is a flawed game, and it really only has one unique aspect to its gameplay. However, that aspect gives the game a ton of replay value. Plus, in all honestly, speeding around and blowing things up is always a blast. The game does one thing different and does it well, which results in a game that is fun above all else.
On the Track: There is a simple handling model that plays fast and loose to emphasize huge drifts.
Graphics: This is a sharp looking game, with a tremendous sense of speed, spectacular crash effects and destructible environments.
Entertainment Value: Very high, just pure fun. Easy to get into, the variety of tracks and the malleability of the tracks adds a lot to the replay value.
Learning Curve: The game adjusts with you, but it sometimes overcompensates with severe rubber-band AI.
Online: Just as fun as single player, but the elimination of rubber-band AI is replaced by car class balancing issues.
Score: 8.5 (Excellent)