Split/Second ReviewGreg Knoll
Split/Second is what I would call a beautiful tragedy. It starts out memorable, and initially blew me away as I imagine it did with so many others. With its tight controls, a wide array of vehicles and expansive, twisting tracks, it has a lot of things hard-core racing fans seek. It didn't make the mistake most do of simply mirroring aspects from popular franchises without adding anything new that will entice loyal followers to jump ship.
Split/Second sets itself apart within the first few moments. It thrusts you into chaos and introduces the one thing that makes it unlike anything I've ever played before: Power Playsa momentary, unexpected twist in the environment that will level any driver in its path. Sometimes the change is simple, be it a garbage truck backing up and blocking the road or an unmanned crane sweeping out to lash a vehicle. Other times they're massive, catastrophic events-gas stations exploding, huge satellites descending and crashing upon unsuspecting drivers, looming helicopters spitting out bombs or entire bridges crumbling and their girders hammering onto the road. They're not unlimited, however, and it's there Split/Second incorporates aspects of a classic racing game. Drifting, drafting and jumping normally would garner you points, or a slim advantage. Here they add to a three-tiered meter. Once a bar is filled, the Power Play becomes available. If you manage to load all three, you can unleash an almost apocalyptic attack that with timing and a little bit of luck will destroy every car in front of you. For later races, it becomes almost crucial for victory.
But as much as it's a blessing, the destruction can also be a curse, and the seemingly normal racing modes present in other games develop into sheer anarchy. Time trials become war zones every volatile element triggers without a prompt, forcing you to dodge the fragments of an exploding boulder or rush under the plummeting nose of an airplane that threatens to pancake your car. Drift challenges turn deadly. No longer is your goal simply trying to stay on the road, Split/Second asks you to do so while you're dodging missiles fired from a chopper, or avoiding explosive barrels being dumped from a semi. As the game progresses, the challenge grows, the explosions get bigger and the danger more dominating.
Having so many options saves the racing from growing stagnant. The same, however, can't be said for Split/Second's overall structure, and unfortunately that's where it inspired within me a sense of disappointment. Giving gamers the ability to modify their own cars and tune them immerses the player, and makes them feel like they're part of the experience. Split/Second is devoid of the option completely. Boosting your stats isn't a matter of adding a turbo engine or reducing your weight it's picking a different vehicle, whether you like it or not. Any decals you earn are automatically placed on your car, and the game chooses where they go. Paint jobs are limited to a bland pre-rendered palate and the ability to change them from matte, iridescent or candy is missing entirely.
Though Split/Second has an over-all premise that of a popular racing television show and you being the star the game does little to actually develop it, or give insight to your character or some of the rivals. It simply goes from one episode to the next. That combined with the absence of a free-roam option makes the game unflinchingly linear, and missing the depth that some of the larger franchises boast. Which is a shame. Split/Second is fast, intelligent and incredibly unique. When it comes to actually racing, it's on par or even above a lot of the games I've encountered, but its lack of anything beyond that turns it into a "what if" game. What if the developers had taken more time with the other aspects, given the gamer more control, or opted to implement some kind of customization mode? I probably would have played the next big thing. Unfortunately now all I can do is wait for a sequel and hope that Black Rock listens to the critics and the fans.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
May I have the strength to lead with compassion. May I have a resolve strong enough to inspire it in others. May my heart be true, my motives virtuous, my spirit valiant. And whether I fail or succeed, may I at least be brave in the attempt.
About the Author: Greg Knoll
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