Game developers have tried time and time again to replicate the cinematic scope of a big-budget testosterone-fueled car movie, some more successfully than others. Cynical gamers might even say the racing genre is over-saturated and declare that throwing money into detailed car models just doesn't cut it anymore. If a studio is going to break into the crowded space they must introduce a unique twist to make an otherwise forgettable IP stand out, and Split/Second aims to do just that.
You're put behind the wheel in an unlikely setting: an amateur stunt driver in a big, loud, expensive movie production of ludicrous proportions being filmed within the game . By twisting reality, Split/Second aims to bring gamers a wild adrenaline rush on wheels. Following in the tire tracks of the Stuntman games is a solid plan, but when the world of cinema and gaming collide its often an embarrassing wreckage.
Is Split/Second a big-budget junker or summer action movie phenomenon?
Split/Second (PlayStation 3 [reviewed], Xbox 360, Windows PC)
Developer: Black Rock Studios
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studio
Released: May 18th, 2010
Since it was first revealed in March 2009, Black Rock Studio has been hard at work laying down the asphalt, raising sky scrapers and rigging explosives in their fantastic fictional world of Split/Second. Broadcasting in the massive sound studio that houses the metropolis of Split/Second, lives a reality TV show televising players behind the wheel of exotic cars racing in a collection of events all wired and ready to explode remotely by the player's actions, perfect timing and a bit of luck.
Split/Second has all the ingredients when creating the perfect recipe for disaster. The racing aspect takes a comfortable back seat as power-plays are the main focus and will be the deciding factor in triumphant victory or shameful defeat. Performing perfect drifts, drafting behind opponents and surviving near death collisions will boost your power-play meter, granting you the ability to turn the race track into a ticking time bomb where disaster and mayhem are rewarded.
Your windshield will collect the remains of your fallen competition as you leave behind a trail of what was once a passenger jet-airliner or industrial power plant. Destruction and anarchy range from simple exploding barrels dropped from patrolling helicopters to entire skyscrapers crumbling into a dust cloud of bent metal revealing new areas and short cuts giving you the much needed advantage. There's nothing more rewarding than witnessing your opponents fall victim to a well timed power-play that cues a spiraling bulldozer or freighter into the racetrack -- fans of anarchy will be most satisfied.
Split/Second's presentation screams big-action Hollywood summer movie. From the sleek opening menus down to the simple camera shakes and musical cues, Split/Second looks like it's pulled out of a Michael Bay car commercial. The visual canvas that represents each track varies in color palettes, settings and design, but never let's up on the eye candy or visual penetration on your eyes. Fans of film composers Trevor Rabin, BT and Brian Tyler will feel right at home when Split/Second's soundtrack participates in the double penetration of visual and audio orgy. The explosives landscapes of Split/Second can easily rival any set piece imagined by the best Hollywood directors.
Dodging homing missiles raining down from a fully armed Apache helicopter or steering clear from barrels being projected from a big-rig trailer stand out from a collection of the usual time sensitive events and elimination races -- the loud and ridiculous are a welcome change to racing games as it prepares, bakes and cuts it's very own piece of the racing genre pie.
Behind all the smoke and mirrors and well timed explosives, Split/Second still incubates a traditional racing game. The first number of events open up with easier wins but can quickly escalate to much pressing and difficult races that might encourage a quick toss of your PlayStation 3 controller. Split/Second may seem guilty of the same "rubber banding" formula of brutal A.I and unbeatable odds that plague many racing games, but there is a lot of strategy and depth buried underneath the aesthetic genre problems. The science of Split/Second relies on these principles, leaving the player to balance between speed, drifts and taking out leading opponents with derailing trains and collapsing highways transforming Split/Second more of a first person shooter on wheels, than an actual racing game.
Spanning across 72 events in 12 episodes, each one opening and closing with the production quality and style of a reality-tv trailer, Split/Second is guilty of recycling the same handful of environments. Each event may begin and end in various parts of the track with a different toy chest of power-play moments to expose, but one can't help but feel like your beginning to do the same song and dance over and over again, walking the fine line of gimmick versus unique.
With the conclusion of each episode or sometimes unique event, you'll be handsomely rewarded with a different type of vehicle or given a racing decal which you'll collect and showcase on any car you choose during a race. Think of racing decals as Achievement points or Trophies you'll unlock during each race, but instead of displaying them in a boring menu hidden underneath several sub menus, your racing decals will live on the hood, trunk, doors or bumpers of your car as endorsements of your unbelievable feats in strategy and destruction.
Split/Second's foundation may be at times a traditional broken racer, but built upon those layers of bad plumbing and faulty concrete, towers a unique and unbelievable experience that will conquer your visual and audio sensory. The reality-television fiction that is Split/Second delivers a brilliant first season, Disney Interactive Studios has published what is undoubtedly just the beginning of what is sure to be an outgoing series. If you hate racing games, you'll love Split/Second. Don't wait around for the season finale, tune in now.
Score: 9.0 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)