After having played the tires off the Split/Second demo, I couldn’t have been more enthused for the full version to arrive in my mailbox. Unfortunately for Split/Second, while I was waiting for it to arrive, Blur arrived in its place, shelving Split/Second for a few more weeks while I played out its direct arcade-racer competition.
Now, finding time for Split/Second, I’m wondering just what indeed I saw in that demo…
Split/Second plays like a TV series. If you’ve watched the film Death Race, you’re kinda feeling the format (albeit without the excessive gore). In a similar fashion to Motorstorm, each TV ‘Series’ acts like a ticket, with a number of varied events – and a special Elite Race (championship event) unlocked at the end of it.
You build up points based on previous events in a qualifier sort of fashion – and can also unlock a special Bonus event within each Series. There are 12 Series’ on offer, with a fair variety of events, ranging from your standard race and elimination modes, to a mode where you race to avoid an attacking helicopter. The latter style events seem a little out of place, but thankfully the way you earn points from events to advance, means you don’t have to play every event from a Series in order to continue.
Racing feels quite slow in comparison to some of the recent games to enter the driving arena (Blur, ModNation for example), but once you start learning the Split/Second ‘Powerplays’, you realise why. Powerplays are a special ability, gained from racing offensively (anything from drifting around corners to drafting opponents), which charge a three-tiered meter conveniently displayed below your car as a HUD. The first two of these bars are for regular Powerplays, such as exploding a bus trackside, or dropping some pipes from a crane hovering over the track.
A Level 3 Powerplay however, is where the real excitement lies. Trigger one of these when prompted and you receive a spectacular, route-changing effect on the circuit. These vary considerably from track-to-track and include massive ocean liners crashing across the road, to aiplanes smashing into the tarmac.
They can happen so quickly sometimes that you’ll have no answer to avoid, but learning the tracks and learning the ‘signs’ of a Powerplay about to run its course reaps big rewards and is required for advancing in later events. Your Powerplay meter can also be used to activate various shortcuts littered around the tracks, offering significant advantage over your opponents. These opened shortcuts only last a short period of time (and you can use rivals’ shortcuts as well), offering another hectic element to the action.
Shamefully, this is all spoiled by perhaps the worst and most frustrating rubber-band AI this side of Motorstorm. Arcade racers are often destroyed by this very thing – and developers Black Rock Studio have learned nothing from other experiences.
You can never comfortably win a race. Even after having “5.4 second lead” flash up on the screen, you take a look back – and miraculously three cars have appeared right on your tail, despite you making no error. Then they overtake you as if you’re standing still just one or two corners from the finish line.
Then there are the races where you’re just completely annihilated, 10 seconds adrift, finishing a distant fourth or fifth, despite running well. This, I worked out after numerous almost controller-throw losses, often comes from driving different cars. You unlock new cars all throughout your career progress, but the problem is, about 80% of them are useless.
During Season 4, I unlocked a sensational looking car, with better stats than all my previous cars – so naturally, I switched. Only to finish the next 4 races no better than 5th. Switched back to my previous car (unlocked in Season 2) and started winning the same events on replay. This is true of many cars in Split/Second.
Track design and layout is well crafted and presented, but sometimes verges on cluttered, however. Black Rock have done a good job of making sure there are enough directional signs and posters to direct you, but often-times learning a new track can be arduous. Another small annoyance is the game’s desire to track your view to an opponent racer you’ve just taken out. Favouring a cinematic view of a massive crash by the guy you just wrecked, instead of allowing you to continue on with your race (and avoid the Powerplay happening 10 metres in front of you) seems to have been overlooked in Beta testing here. I’ve lost count the number of times I’ve been given back control, only to drive straight into a flaming bus, or plane fuselage a moment later.
You get the feeling that it would have been something a lot more special and enjoyable had the AI been given flat difficulty levels, instead of this rubber-band ‘adaptive’ difficulty that devs seem to adopt these days (and one that never works).
Graphics & Sound
Split/Second nails the graphics of an arcade racer. If Michael Bay made a racing game, this is what it would look like. Plenty of explosions, helicopters lobbing missiles at cars, mining vehicles being dragged through highway overpasses.. It’s all big money-shot imagery. It’s sharp, it’s high contrast and there’s loads of explosions. Loads of explosions.
Menus are laid out nicely, the presentation lending itself well to the television show format. Cut-scenes that play like advertisements litter the career progress, highlighting advances between Seasons and it’s all very easy to navigate and access. This is a game that needs to be played at high volume on the surround-sound; raw engine noises, rumbling explosions and screeching tires doing well to immerse you in the action.
Powerplays are fantastic, but the novelty wears thin after a few runs of each track. Presentation is sleek and impressive. However, it’s got the worst rubber-band AI in a long time, plenty of unusable cars, anorexic online and few reasons to replay anything.
Looking for a good arcade racer? Grab Blur.