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Split/Second Review: A little late to the party

So I realize I'm a little late with reviewing this. But after having such a great time with it, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on it. I also pulled more than this review away from the experience, so hopefully I can talk about that at another time. In the mean time, here is my review of Split/Second and I hope it does its intended purpose: humor and information.

Developed: Black Rock Studios
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Version Played: PS3

The air is saturated with the roaring of hyper-charged engines and cripplingly heavy debris thrown in the air, and my head is constantly thinking to avoid certain crashing. I charge up the bar and take out the needle tower in the city’s downtown area. As it falls like a chopped tree, I can almost imagine the scream coming from the racers in front of me as they veer to get out of the way. But it is too late and the tower has fallen, taking out five rivals. The tower’s innards have collapsed as well, giving way to a shortcut that takes my silver streak of a car across roof tops until I get to the route below. I’m suddenly in a different area of the city and the lap I had just completed has chunk of it under the ass end of a tower. A smile enlightens my face. I am having fun and up to the brim with glee. This is the action and absurdness that I’ve been craving for in a racing game for a long time.

Read on to see how Split/Second fondles my nerd frenulum, even despite some nags and snags.
Split/Second is a racing game from Black Rock Studios, with a lot of action in that revolves around (time to take care of this pun), split second timing. For those that haven’t heard, the main “attraction” to Split/Second is the destructible events and environments. Think of it as a banana peel in Mario Kart, except the events only happen in certain places and the result is usually a crushed or blown up vehicle rather than a cutesy spin. While you are limited to where these things can happen, don’t worry: there are PLENTY of places to dish out the pain to your rivals. Whether it is an exploding barrel or a tanker ship wanting to broadside you, you can be sure that there will be thrills.

Split/Second has a story, but not a very strong one. You are a new contestant on the Split/Second TV show, a type of game show where contestants race and rank up to eventually take on the “elites” of Split/Second. These elites drive all black, carbon fibered cars. They’re fast and they know these roads inside and out. Let’s not beat around the bush: they are here to screw you over…hard. As the newest contestant, you have to start from the bottom of the pack and work your way to the top. Consisting of 72 races (60 of these being “normal season” and 12 being a part of the “bonus” races), Split/Second’s latest TV season is set to test your wit, bravado, and balls-out luck. This isn’t story, as much as it is just background to the game. There will be no cut-scenes or in-game dialogue to tell you otherwise. But there was a thing mentioned after the game was beaten, which I’ll save for later. Just know that Black Rock Studios could have done without it.

The gameplay found in Split/Second is nothing short of arcade: Drive, take out rivals with explosives and falling architecture, and drive faster. Don’t come in expecting Gran Turismo or Forza’s simulation levels. Let’s get this clear: AIRPLANES FALL OUT OF THE SKY TOWARDS YOU. There is nothing real about this, and that makes it so great for me. Your job is to go through the race, beat everyone else, and use your environment to take out rivals. You can use whatever is at your fingertips on the course. One level may let you blow up a big rig in the middle of the road, causing it to flip and land on someone, while another level has you hopping aboard the PAIN TRAIN, as it falls from the rails onto the road, clearing out a shortcut and route change (as well as anyone in the way). Very simple, but pretty complex in practice and devious in execution with said practice. A big plus for this game is that shortcuts opened with a level 1 power play, will close behind you. While this means you can steal a short cut activation that someone else used, it can be a bit risky. At the same time, get far enough ahead, and rivals will be crashing face first into tons of metal blocking their way.

There are only a few buttons to know, perfect for rookies. You have two “Level 1” action buttons, which will detonate the small stuff. This was a good choice, considering you’ll be using these the most, unless you’re a glutton for glorious punishment. In that case, the “Level 2” power plays are what you’re after. Next are steering, acceleration, and brake, of course. You can move the cameras during a race to get some nice angles, although why you would do this when towers are falling on you, I have no clue. If you nail some people with a power play, a quick prompt will let you watch it from several cinematic angles. After viewing, it will send you right back into the race. One thing I noticed, was that if can take out a rival in one of these ways, and you’re about to crash, if you view the replay, it will right you on course, without having to worry about said crash. Not sure if this was an intentional thing, but it can be helpful if you aren’t concentrating on pesky things like turns. While you have the power play moments like dropping an airport's radar dish on someone, helicopters hover over some spots, ready for a level 1 power play to drop an explosive barrel. This game may not have physical blue shells, but this is as close to dick move as it gets. In the campaign, these will be your best friend. In multiplayer, they will be your enemy. Luckily, the later cars either go too fast to be affected, or are too heavy to even flinch.

Split/Second isn’t just blowing up courses. There are different modes to take on in the campaign, each with their own twist. There is a time trial mode called Detonater that really tests how well you know a course. You drive by yourself, trying to beat the target time. While doing this, power plays are triggered by the computer, hoping to take you out. While very fun and helpful to plan future strategies, I really wish they would’ve gone with a dynamic A.I. here. After you’ve crashed and restarted a few times, you’ll know your way around each obstacle with ease. Survival is a mode where you must rack up the big points by passing big rigs that drop exploding barrels on the course. Blue barrels will only stun and throw you around a little. Red barrels are instant death. You’ll only get 3 tries, and in order to complete this mode fast, you’ll want to go flawlessly to get the multiplier up quick. There will be some cheap deaths, because the debris can really cloud up your vision. At the same time, it really racks up the tension, which can be a good thing if done correctly. Air Strike and Air Revenge feature the Split/Second helicopters, bent on taking you out. Instead of avoiding power plays, you will be avoiding missiles. In Air Strike, the pilot will be firing rockets that you must avoid. The crosshairs on the ground indicate exactly where they will hit. It is up to you to dodge as cleanly as possible. Strike is about striking up a score. In Air Revenge, you gain power play points by dodging, which will let you “return to sender”. My advice for this mode, save up power until you get to the red and drift like hell. This mode is about taking out the helicopter in a set time, so bounce that crap back quick. Elimination is a standard race mode where every minute or so, the racer in last place is taken out until only one is left. It will make you think twice about your power plays and even your strategy could switch.

As a musician, I tend to be picky about the audio, specifically music, in games. For Split/Second, I think they did a good thing with the music. Instead of licensed tunes or SUPA DOPE BEATS, they decided to go with a kind of “symphonic rock” track, that is choreographed to how you are doing in the game and your surroundings. When you near a falling hazard or an explosion triggers, the music fades back, as if signaling your heart is taking over for the beat. When you’ve avoided it, the music comes back in. They are very smooth transitions and really immersed my head into the game. Unfortunately, there are not too many different songs, so it can be a bit repetitive. But you’ll be too busy focusing on the sound of gnarled metal and exploding apartments to take notice.

When I played the demo, I thought the cars were too “heavy” and “stiff”. After buying the full game, I can safely say it was just the car that you had to use. In fact, many of these cars will be too buttery to use, although if you can use them, prepare for insane speeds. The farther you go, the better the cars. Standard racing motif. Let’s talk about these cars a little more though.

Those wanting a lot of customization will be disappointed. You can only pick from a small pallet of colors, mostly consisting of “cool” colors. So if you were wanting to fire up a sun-colored bringer of death, you will be out of luck. They do have healthy doses of black and red, though. Bodies cannot be modified, and the only other visual aspects that can be changed are the “trophy stickers” that you will collect throughout the campaign and multiplayer. But you cannot even place these. The game will automatically put the stickers on in pre-determined locations. The stickers’ requirements range from taking out a certain number of other drivers at a time, to airborne time and more. Some are easy to obtain, some will have you grinding your teeth to the jaw bone if you’re a hardcore completionist.
Split/Second’s graphics, even if car color can’t be changed, will leave jaws dropped. Explosions pop and debris is scattered everywhere. Crumbling buildings thanks to the Havok engine really have a weight to them and the blurs of speed create and even more intense atmosphere. At least once a race, you will be dodging engines and car skeletons, hoping they do not take you out…and it still runs at a very crisp pace (I want to say 60fps, but I’m not an expert in the department). My experience was with very little to no lag on my PS3 and the load times are pretty short.

While it looks great, underneath Split/Second lies a hideous beast…and its name, is rubber banding. If you thought it was horrible in Mario Kart, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve had it in here. I know it is arcade in its gameplay, but if I take out 5 people with a falling 747, I want none of those 5 people catching up to me. Usually, it only takes about twenty seconds and 2 out of the 5 have found me. It’s pretty damn ridiculous and it is something that needs fixing…immediately. In the first few “episodes” of the game, it is extremely bearable. But right at the sixth season mark, the rubber banding becomes tighter than a nun’s vagoo. When you face the elites, it becomes apparent that they are just the elites of rubber banding. There were times I had to restart races because I would get fed up with it. Luckily, the rivals can be taken out pretty smoothly if you time your power plays right. Sure, it does make for a more “intense” experience, but I also like to be rewarded for taking out more than half of the competition. If I mess up while driving out in the lead, it should be my fault that they catch up and/or pass me, not some bullcrap system.

The menu system in Split/Second can be a little cumbersome, since if you want to change your color during a season, you have to actually exist to the main menu, and then go back into campaign in order to get the color you want. Not too big of a deal, but a hassle regardless.

If you like traveling to many exotic places in your games, Split/Second is also not the game to endulge in your delights. There are only a few locales here, but each has different sections that you race upon. However, after repeated races, I’ve noticed the short cuts take you to some of the areas that are open in other races and your area is locked (if that makes any sense). While I understand they might have done this to perfect their power plays and traps in the courses, it becomes pretty tiresome to see the same nuclear power plant cone again and again. If retreading your steps in an action game irked you, Split/Second will drive you up a wall (no pun intended…ok, maybe).

For the first foray into this franchise, Split/Second makes a solid step out of the gate, although it may be a bit wobbly at times. Yes, I said franchise. Let me remind you of that prior thing about the story.
Earlier I said that the game tried to have a story. Spoiler alert is happening now, but I can almost guarantee that even if you read this, it will ruin nothing.


We good? Sweet. Anyhow, after beating the game, you are treated to a small cut scene, where the city set pieces are starting to be destroyed. You can hear the announcer talking to someone else, saying “they should have been taken care of” and other such lines. Apparently, this was an old show or something. I’m still confused as hell about it, nor will I try to make any sense of it. It’s stupid and unnecessary.


Now that Split/Second has established its name, I’m hoping it can only go up. My experience was one of pure bliss when things were going smoothly and hair-pulling when I would be beaten by stupid reasons or rubber banding. I have finished first in all races and it was worth it. I will warn you that to get first place in all races will require a lot of patience. If you have that and the balls-out attitude of a driver on the edge, then this game will be in your collection, without a Split/Second thought. Okay, I’m done with the puns.
While I will not give it a score as an official statement (reading reviews is always more important than a few digits), I would give it a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10. The moments of frustration are worth putting up with for the many monumental occasions.

*I would like to point out that I have not tried online multiplayer, because of technical limitations (read as: Rural Internet blows). Splitscreen was fun and fast paced. So that will keep you and your friends enjoying the explosions locally.

How was this review? Too BIAS? Too slow and/or unfunny? Let me know, because although I hope to get a job in the industry, I need to improve my writing (I’ve written a lot of things, but not really any video game revies). Thanks for reading, and hope to game with you fellow Dtoiders soon.
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About Dr Rockyowitzone of us since 11:47 PM on 07.31.2008

Sup. I'm Thomas, or as I've become accustomed to the screen name I gave myself recently because I'm slightly unoriginal, Dr. Rockyowitz.

I just graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in English and a focus in Creative Writing. So here's hoping that gets me somewhere. I would love to work on writing for games on either the industry side, or for a website. Or, do the music for video games.

I play guitar and write a lot of music. So there's that, and you can check my stuff out at www.youtube.com/tomtom777otz
Xbox LIVE:YinYangRonin
PSN ID:RoninZero777
Steam ID:tomtomzero


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