Arcade racing games provide an escape from reality that allows you to drive like a maniac in vehicles you could never afford, or don’t even exist in the real world. Throw in some absolutely insane and often impossible situations, and you have Split/Second. Driving super fast and narrowly avoiding collisions is fun and exhilarating. Speeding across the deck of a sinking aircraft carrier and dodging jet fighters that are sliding down the inflamed landing strip is fucking awesome! You haven’t played a racing game like Split/Second before.
The concept is simple, and there’s no story to be told. Split/Second is a big budget reality TV show that pits racers against each other, and empowers them with the ability to trigger environmental hazards to slow down or take out opponents. It’s very much in the same vein as the (older) Need for Speed and Burnout games, but has a few tricks up its sleeve that make it stand out in the crowd.
These fantastic events are called Power Plays, and dozens of them litter each course. They range from small hazards, like an exploding vehicle on the side of the road, to levelling a large building, or pulling a massive passenger aircraft from the sky… literally. And as you can imagine, just about everything in-between. The bigger Power Plays are called Course Changers, and they do just that. Often, part of the track will be destroyed and an alternate route exposed. Triggering a Course Changer will certainly take out most opponents who happen to be ahead of you, allowing just enough time for the dust to settle as you blow on through. Power Plays can be triggered when you have filled up your Power Play meter, which is achieved by performing drifts, jumps, or drafting your opponents. You also get a nice little bonus for close calls. There are 3 segments in the bar, and the first two can be triggered independently. But if you fill the bar, you have the ability to trigger a Course Changer. It’s all about being strategic with the Power Plays and knowing when it’s best to build up your meter, or unleash hell on your opponents.
Power Plays can also be used to open up alternate roots, or temporary shortcuts that will shave a few seconds off your lap time. I say temporary, because they are usually large gates that open, or bridges that lower, which quickly close once you’ve passed through. So jacking someone else’s shortcut can be risky business, if you’re not right on their tail.
In racing games, we’re used to gauges, timers, and maps occupying every corner of the screen. Split/Second has almost entirely done away with the HUD, and only has the most critical information displayed just below your car in the centre of the screen. That’s where you focus is going to be most of the time, and there’s rarely a need to shift your view point.
There are some other details which put a smile on my face when I first discovered them. Like the number on your car, which represents your progress in the career, or your current online standing (when you’re playing online). Achievements earned are also displayed on your car in the form of vinyl stickers. Essentially, your Achievements become your car’s livery. Very cool!
Game Types – Old Favourites, and New Twists
There are only a few event types, but they are enough to provide a diverse and fun career mode. The standard 8-player race mode and elimination are my favourites. There’s also a time trial mode called Detonator, where you race solo against the clock, while Power Plays and Course Changers are triggered automatically around you. These are insanely fun and not at all tedious, like time trials tend to be. Of the more unique modes, are Air Strike and Air Revenge. Both pit you against a combat helicopter, which fires bursts of missiles at you constantly. In Air Strike, the goal is to evade the missiles as long as possible. While in Air Revenge, you get a chance to fight back, using your Power Plays to interrupt the targeting system of the chopper, directing the missiles back at it. The final game mode is called Survival, and the object is to pass as many big rigs as possible, while racing down a narrow stretch. The catch, is that the truck is launching explosive barrels in all directions. Blue barrels will knock you around a bit, while red barrels are instant death. Survival, along with the helicopter modes can really be frustrating, and often feel cheap.
Multiplayer Stinks, at First
When I jumped online early on, I was totally disappointed. It was quick and easy enough to get into a game, but it wasn’t nearly as fun and exhilarating as the offline career mode. This was entirely due to the fact that there are no restrictions on the vehicles used in online races. So, players who just picked up the game are using the slowest and least powerful vehicles, while others who have completed the career (or paid to unlock everything via DLC) are driving the top of the line models. Talk about unbalanced. Most races ended with gaps of 10-15 seconds between players, and hardly any Power Plays triggered.
Now that I’ve finished the solo career and have some of the high-end vehicles, it’s a lot more fun playing online. I found that more people have the better cars as well, given that the game has been out a few weeks now. It’s just a shame that you essentially have to either complete the career, or pay for the vehicle unlock DLC if you want to have fun online.
Despite the initial online drawback and the less-than-awesome game modes, every time I sat down to play Split/Second, I had a huge amount of fun. Even now that I’ve made it through the career mode, I’m going back and bettering standings and still thoroughly enjoying the thrill ride that is Split/Second. It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn good time!