You may not have heard of Black Rock Studios before but they’ve been around a while, had a name change or two and have created a handful of racing games including 2008’s quad bike blast of fun, Pure. If you still don’t recognise the name and merely know of Split/Second from the demo that released earlier in the year, you will be excused for thinking they were the guys behind the Burnout series. In fact, it’s hard to ignore the similarities. Is that a bad thing or have Black Rock Studios stumbled upon their best idea yet?
Split/Second is presented in a way I have never experienced in videogame form It pretends to be real and every aspect of the game goes to help force a reality show-esque style upon you. The tutorial stage of the game is mandatory and all about qualifying for the show, and the show itself is broken up into seasons. With each season being broken up into a selected chunk of events with some unlockable bonus rounds thrown in to really test your skills.
I need to get this off my chest early, but this game is INSANE. There is very rarely a moment during a race or challenge event where you feel relaxed or calm, part of this is due to the rather unfair rubber banding of the AI controlled cars, but it’s mainly the fact that whether you’re out in front or trying to catch up from a rather unfortunate lap there is always something exploding/falling over/crashing down/exploding/being dropped/exploding; and to make matters worse, it’s all because of your competitors.
A good drift, a nice jump through the air or just tailing an opponent to draft off their slipstream will all be rewarded with a small gauge behind your car growing in size. Fill one bar and you are given enough power to either create a small shortcut (via a raising garage door or other minor change to the environment) or set off a level 1 Power Play. Fill your gauge completely and you can either set off a bunch of level 1 Power Plays or go for the big ones…. the level 2 Power Plays…..
This is what separates the boys from the men, and there’s something about causing a plane to crash land on its runway as your opponent tries to squeeze beneath its wheels or engines that is just satisfying, which is helped by the fact that if you do manage to take someone out, with a quick press of the L1 button you can see it all unfold in a cinematic instant replay. And while it is undeniably satisfying, I’d go as far as saying it’s more satisfying being the guy that manages to escape the mess, which will also increase your power play gauge with what is labelled a “Close call”.
Racing isn’t the only thing you’ll be doing in Split/Second as the guys at Black Rock Studios knew just doing that wouldn’t be enough to make people come back for more. You’ve got the traditional time trial mode, where you’re given a car and a time to beat. The only difference is, is that the entire stage is exploding around you and knocking your car around in the process. Basically every power play that can be triggered is being triggered and it’s up to you to avoid them. But maybe that isn’t enough for you, maybe you’d like to see how long you can last against a rocket equipped helicopter. Every few seconds a helicopter will send down a barrage of rockets and it’s up to you to avoid them. Get hit tree times and it’s all over.
But maybe you’d prefer to be on the attack, and by saving up your Power Plays you can send those rockets right on back to the helicopter in Air Revenge mode. Hit the helicopter enough times and down he comes. There’s a bunch more modes locked away in Split/Second but I won’t spoil all of them for you.
Graphically, the game shines. There is a real sense of speed, and the effects really help push the game from mediocre into fantastic. Sure, if you look hard enough you’ll probably realise things are a little low-poly and that there’s a bit of clipping in some of the more outlandish animations, but it all goes by so fast and at such an intensity that you’ll be hard pressed to find anything to really complain about.
But there is something to complain about. There just aren’t enough tracks. Split/Second tries to liven things up by introducing a new track every season, but in the end, at only 5 different environments (with numerous tracks per environment) every starts to seem a little samey within a few seasons. You’ll stop watching the instant replays due to having seem them so many times, and the explosive intros/outros for each season will stop being so amazing when they show off Power Plays you’ve already seen. It would’ve been nice to ensure a new environment per season, but that’s no small task.
If you’re into arcade racers buy this game right now. This is what I wished Burnout Paradise was when it released, and you can tell that the guys at Black Rock Studios enjoyed creating it with the fun style they have going on as well as the fact that their names fill the single player fictional leaderboards. Should you ever get bored with single player, there is always online and Split/Screen (see what I did there) multiplayer to jump into. Everything you’ve unlocked becomes available for you and your friends to enjoy, but might I suggest unlocking some of the faster cars before even bothering to jump into a race with strangers. Online seemed to be completely lag free, which is something you’d want when it finishing a race comes down to fractions of a second.
I mentioned unfair rubber banding of the AI controlled vehicles in the single player mode, but truthfully, I can’t imagine how boring this game would be if you kept your lead the entire race. It’s all about intensity, and there’s something about setting off a Power Play metres before the finish line to take first place after getting way behind in the first lap or two.
If you like fun and/or arcade racers. Get. This. Now.