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In the world of racing games there has always been a distinct line between arcade racers such as the Burnout and the Need for Speed Franchises and simulation racers such as Grand Turismo, which appeal to those who like to bury themselves in the stats. Then we get a game like Split/Second, which on first appearances looks to be another arcade racer and yet is a game that also encourages you to take out your fellow racers by reducing your surroundings to smouldering rubble.
On the surface, Split/Second, which might seem like it’s helmed by Michael Bay, is surprisingly more than a fun gimmick as not only does it feature the usual selection of flash sports cars and trucks but some genuinely solid racing action as you partake as a new driver on the fictional TV Show called Split/Second, were participants race for fame and glory over the course of the twelve episode season. This is also a show whose seemingly unlimited budget enables them to rig various locations with explosives, traps and shortcuts so racers can trigger them throughout the racer to give themselves a winning advantage or just to take out their fellow competitors.
Taking place across a variety of locations from city highways and airports through to aircraft boneyards and storm drains, speed is certainly one of the main focuses of the game design with sheer spectacle coming a close second as each location has its own set of trigger points that can be triggered throughout the race. Racers amass power points by performing stunts such as jumps or precision driving such as drifting or drafting with more points being given the longer an action is held. The more the meter is filled the more things which can be triggered by the player with a full meter opening up the option to create the biggest power plays, which see mass destruction being released on the track that can really swing the race rankings as well as the route of the race itself. At the same time, you also have to avoid the effects of these same trigger points as your rival racers can just as easily take you out as well.
Just based on the spectacle, this game certainly delivers as bridges crumble, cooling towers collapse and on one level a plane crashes onto the same runway you and your fellow racers are tearing up. Even the smaller trigger points such, as a wrecking ball flying across the screen or a bridge strut falling onto the track bring a real thrill to the race experience as you see your opponents being wiped off the track in front of you as you essentially get to live out your Fast and Furious style fantasies, something its own bland tie-in games failed to achieve. Its this same driving-by-instinct feeling that you will get when chaos and fire is seemingly erupting in every direction and threatening to take you out. This of course makes it a great game for spectators-parties who will no doubt be able to appreciate the chaos than you as the driver who is basically trying to not get crushed like a beer can.
Not content to be a gimmick racing game, Split/Second‘s campaign mode is broken into episodes with each one opening and closing with a preview of the events of each episode all in a fittingly cinematic style. These events vary from traditional lap and elimination races through to the more fantastical survival mode were you have to pass a series of trucks that toss out exploding barrels. Even the time trial mode is amped up with you trying to beat the clock while every trigger point is exploded to try and slow you down. By winning these events you earn points, which unlock new cars and episodes while wrecking your opponents allowing you to unlock bonus rounds.
The vehicle selection falls largely into two categories of super cars and trucks with some cars being faster while others able to drift easier. The other key stat here though is damage as some vehicles are better at taking explosions and near misses which spin out other vehicles, which can be especially handy for events such as Air Strike. As such, the game actively encourages you to experiment with different cars to find the right one for that event, though for the most part, you will latch onto one or two cars as you go with ride of choice. Sadly, the customisation options are limited to changing the colour, though it’s fun that your achievements appear as decals on your car.
Strip away the booms and bangs and what you’re left with is a solid arcade racer, which is easy to pick up and play and whose gradual rise in difficulty helps sharpen your reflex’s like Burnout so that once you start getting into the super fast cars you may find yourself wondering how exactly your able to keep up. At the same time the graphics still look polished despite being developed for seventh generation systems. The biggest disappointment here is that the game ends on a cliffhanger of sorts with the planned sequel being axed when Disney made reductions to the Black Rock Studio workforce, but who knows if the equally underrated Bulletstorm can get a HD remix. True, this might not have enough there to make it your main racer but it sure is a fun ride while it lasts. It’s what to play.