Do you like fast cars? Do you like explosions? Do you like exploding fast cars? If you have answered yes to all three of these questions, Split/Second is just the game for you. Based on the premise that you're a driver on an exciting new television show, you race through 12 different episodes competing against various opponents in a bid to become the ultimate champion.
Sounds like a lot of fun, right? Being a star on a new show that tests your daring and driving skills. Well sadly, the game doesn't do a very good job of making you feel like you're on a television show, but that doesn't detract from how exciting and fun Split/Second can really be.
So, what makes Split/Second different than other racing games? Well, for starters, there are a lot of explosions, I mean, a lot. It's like you're playing a more realistic (and I use that term loosely) version of Mario Kart. But instead of green shells and bananas you're dropping barrels full of explosives and blowing up gas trucks as your enemies drive by. Along side the ability to set off explosions or make various elements of the environment tumble onto your opponent, you also have the ability to dramatically change the race track by initiating a route change. These are large scale, scripted events that can range from causing a tower to crumble, enabling you to drive on the roof of buildings, to destroying a naval ship, allowing you to drive through its hanger bays. Obviously there are limits on these abilities and how and when you can use them. This is dictated by your power bar, which fills when you complete moves such as drifting, drafting, surviving close calls or other similar feats. You can either use your power right away for a low level powerplay (what causing explosions or environmental destruction are called), save it up for a level 2 powerplay, which causes larger scale events, or one of the aforementioned route changes.
If you haven't figured it out yet, Split/Second is far from a realistic driving simulation. The main goal is to drive fast and avoid obstacles, about as arcade like as a racing game can get. There really is no customization available for your cars aside from simple colour changes, and you unlock faster and more powerful vehicles by completing races and challenges. Some vehicles will be better suited for speed and drifting, whereas others will have a higher strength and be better suited for one of the not so typical events. Aside from the normal races, Split/Second has a few new and creative events to compete in. There's Survival, which pits you on a track, dodging explosive barrels falling off the back of a truck, earning points for each truck you pass and length of time you survive. There's also Air Attack wherein you must swerve and dodge missiles being shot at you by a helicopter, raking in more points the longer you survive. Finally there is Air Revenge, similar to Air Attack, but instead of merely surviving, you accumulate power by drifting and dodging missiles in order to counter the projectiles and destroy the helicopter. After you've seen these two modes, everything else is pretty standard, time trials that include scripted explosion trying to slow you down and elimination, where after a period of time the driver in last place is eliminated.
Although Split/Second does serve up a lot of fun and some novel new race modes, it's not without its faults. The AI is relentless in knocking you as they pass, frequently resulting in spin outs, and try as you might, you will never have a significant lead during a race. You can drive perfectly, avoiding every explosion and not crashing once, but when it comes down to it, you will be neck and neck with the AI drivers until the bitter end. It does make things interesting and keep you on your toes, but it becomes frustrating when the AI passes you in the final moments of a race when you've the lead for almost the entire time. To sum it up, it makes the AI feel cheap. Another somewhat disappointing aspects of Split/Second is its lack of variety in tracks. There are a fair number of different courses, but many of them are just altered routes of the same maps. With this being said, after playing through several of the episodes you'll know where all the big explosions will occur, what shortcuts to take, and what areas to watch out for, making the races a little less surprising.
If you're up for a more diverse type of race and opponent with better timing for setting off explosions and death traps, there's always the option of playing online. The online experience features a variety of tracks you've played in the single player campaign, but includes only three race options: Survival, Elimination and a good old fashion race. The online portion doesn't really offer up anything new aside from more capable opponents, but it runs smoothly and can make for some interesting and fun races. The only draw back of the online portion is that you can only use cars you've unlocked in game. So if you're just started Split/Second and decide you want to hop online, you'll likely be left in the dust as other players who have beaten the game zoom past you in the fastest and best available cars.
The courses, cars and presentation of Split/Second are all top notch and deliver an appealing and colourful experience. When large objects begin to explode because of a route change, all the audio goes eerily quiet before rushing back in a loud explosion. When someone is on your tail, you will hear their engine roaring and know that your lead is not safe. The music in game is decent, but doesn't really stand out and feels like a better job could have been done to include some more upbeat and energetic songs to get you into the game. When you set off a powerplay and destroy opponents, the number of causalities will flash across your screen (Split/Second uses a minimalist HUD). Also, when you destroy cars, seemingly at random, once and a while the game will slow down and zoom in on the destroyed vehicle. This is a neat effect, but also rather annoying if you're about to go around a corner, as you are no longer focused on the track and have no idea where you're going.
Split/Second is an exciting, fast paced arcade racer that is ever bit as enjoyable as other franchises in this genre. The addition of explosions and route changes offers up some new and exciting gameplay in a genre which seems to stay close to its tried and tested routes (pun intended). Split/Second will not offer up any type of realism for hardcore racers after a sim like game, and there is virtually no customization available. What Split/Second does give you is the chance to drive really fast, destroy your opponents in multiple ways and have an all around good time. If you're a fan of arcade style racing games, do yourself a favour and pick this game up, and if your preference is towards realistic racers, at least give Split/Second a try, it's a blast.