I don’t think Split/Second was given the chance it should’ve been given to shine. After all, it was the second effort for Black Rock Studios, following its successful foray into ATV racing with Pure just a couple of years prior. Alas, because of Disney Interactive’s mismanagement, the game didn’t get the proper advertising it deserved, and Black Rock became nothing more than a memory just a year or so later.
That’s a shame, because the legacy it created with Split/Second was really something. This is a racing game that isn’t necessarily about the racing. Yeah, it plays a big part, but there’s a lot of creativity in terms of how each race comes off. Instead of battling against other opponents, you’re using the track itself as a weapon, activating these events called “power plays” that can change the course of a race in an instant, from watching a car get blown off the track by an exploding truck to creating an entirely new path with a super “power play” – we’re talking an airport tower collapsing onto a freeway and leading you out onto the freakin’ runway while a plane lands on it, for crying out loud.
It’s all part of an interactive TV show called Split/Second, where racers gun for first place while earning “power play” juice through drifting, drafting behind other cars and other stunts, such as jumps. Once it fills up a certain amount, certain traps can be activated. Fill it up even more, and you can create bigger opportunities to wipe cars out of the way and take the lead for yourself. Its sheer unpredictability is on a whole new level than what you’d find in, say, Project Gotham Racing or Gran Turismo. As favorites as those games may be nowadays,they have nothing on the sheer manicness of Split/Second.
There is a small catch – you have to get used to the driving gameplay. That’s not to say it’s broken by any means, but this isn’t Ridge Racer style drifting. Black Rock has made the handling a little more realistic, so you have to struggle as you go into your turns or risk colliding into the wall and creating a mess for the others behind you, as a few slip by and take the lead. Once you get used to the system, however – not to mention the nature of the beast which is the track themselves –then you can really make some progress.
Split/Second is an aggressive driving game – and how. If players don’t try to ram you off the road, they’ll activate traps in their own right, whether it’s a huge wrecking ball dragging across the course or a helicopter dropping a bomb right in front of you – or worse yet, on you. It’s the sort of racing event where you’ll want to keep on your toes, and fight for your first place lead. It’s a great change from the “hey, let’s coast to a first place victory” style of play.
In addition to racing events, there are other survival events that are excellent, like dodging trucks full of exploding drums as quickly as you can, or taking on a helicopter in a full-blown battle of missiles versus wits. This, on top of the game’s still functioning and very enjoyable multiplayer, will give you plenty to do once you beat the single player campaign and join the Split/Second elite– good luck getting there.
Along with sharp gameplay that will keep you going at every turn, Split/Second also features a polished presentation, with a number of tracks throughout the city that offer a great deal of variety. Plus, the fact you can blow pretty much any part of it up with a well-timed “power play” is amazing, especially at the conclusion of the race, when it all goes up in smoke anyway. It’s really something to see –especially with the super “power plays” in effect.
The audio is superb, too. Rather than just going with licensed tracks, Black Rock called upon a composer to create a riveting, energy-filled soundtrack that amazes at every turn with up-tempo beats. It’s the sort of thing you’d hear in a Michael Bay film, and the fact you can get it here without even needing to deal with Bay is a real treat. (Shame we can’t say the same for Transformers, but oh well.) The engine noises are okay, but you’ll be too busy listening to the soundtrack to care.
This last generation – Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, mind you – may be winding down, but there’s still room to go back and explore the best games from it. Split/Second is easily one of them, a racing game that doesn’t play by the general rules and, as a result, shines from it. It’s just a shame Disney didn’t give this franchise a second chance on the current machines, because something tells me that Black Rock still had miles to burn with this one. Sigh.
But it’s only $20. Seriously, go get it.
The Bottom Line:
Split/Second is one of the best games from this past generation, and a real example of how to revolutionize a genre with a few extravagant tweaks. It’s fun to play and filled with surprises at every turn, and the presentation amazes to this very day. Give it a spin.
- Wildly creative and fun, especially with the power plays
- Exhilarating presentation keeps up the pace
- Great on your own, or in multiplayer
- We'll never see a sequel, thanks to Disney
- Engine noises aren't the greatest, but you probably won't care
- More aggressive than your typical racing effort