Disney Interactive has housed some of this generation's biggest surprises, so far. First there was Pure, which was downright fantastic and utterly breathtaking. Now, we have Split/Second, which is an unusual take on the action-racing genre where the environment is your weapon, and there are no pick-ups. In my Blur review, I concluded my bit by simply saying if you had to choose between both Split/Second and Blur, you'd be best off with Split/Second. The bottom-line is that both of these games are action-racers where battling is key, and that's more than enough to legitimately compare the two against one another.
First, let's go over how a game can have attacks without having any pick-ups. Simple, your driving generates a power gauge, called the Powerplay Meter, that you can use to trigger explosive rigged objects on the course. Performing drifts and drafting your opponents will build this gauge, which has three bars to fill up. You can either deplete the bars by using a standard attack using the X button - this is usually a smaller scale strike such as a helicopter dropping a bomb, a rigged explosive, an exploding vehicle, a crane that smashes you with a giant block, a truck smashing you, an exploding fuel-tanker, collapsing bridge and much, much more. You may have noticed that I called those a "standard attack", because there is still a second wave of madness that is so massive and epic that it depletes all three bars. By pressing the Circle button when available, you will be able to trigger absolutely monumental destruction, which includes a plane crashing down, a giant tower (think Seattle's Space Needle) toppling over, an entire construction site crumbling to pieces, a bridge exploding, and so many other absolutely jaw dropping moments that going further would probably be considered spoilers. I mean, there's nothing out there today that'll allow your car to get crushed by falling buildings or even an airplane…it's just insanity.
How the game mechanic works is actually very simple. When there is an opportunity to do some damage to your opponents, a trigger will appear over them letting you know that they are near an explosive area and you can trigger that action simply by pressing X or Circle. You'll have to be careful to not wipe yourself out, so pay close attention to what's going on up ahead. Speaking of paying attention, often times if you have multiple cars ahead of you, you can wreck multiple cars with one shot, which is always extremely rewarding. As far as how the game controls, I quite like the feel of the cars and just how sturdy the controls are. Your vehicles feel planted to the ground, as opposed to being overly loose and flimsy on every turn. Now, since I'm explaining the game mechanic, I should also explain the premise of the game, which is directly tied to the presentation. Split/Second is the name of an in-game TV show, and you are participating in its newest season. Each episode is a series of races, and each race won earns you points. The basic progression system is very simple and you've seen it done before, so as you keep playing you'll unlock more races, modes, cars, and tracks.
Unlike Blur, which forces you to play through the career without any quick play or practice modes, Split/Second offers Season, Quick Play, Online multiplayer, and Split-Screen multiplayer, so if you've played through a bit of the Season, you should have enough content to enjoy in the Quick Play mode. A total of eight-players can go online, and two can play split-screen which is a far cry from Blur's 20-player online setup and 4-player split-screen setup. Split/Second includes an assortment of race modes, all of which are rather intense. Given the nature of the game, a game mode such as Air Strike is a given; here the premise is to avoid incoming missiles from a helicopter and earn points in the process. There is also a mode that is the very opposite of Air Strike, called Air Revenge, where you turn the tables and attack the helicopter. Another mode, Detonator is where you're on the road course all alone…with the entire track exploding all around you! Detonator is a great way to experience just some of the hell this game allows you to cause, and dodging all of it is absurdly fun. Survival mode pits you against trucks that are dropping explosive barrels all over the track, hit them and you'll either wreck or lose a lot of speed. The premise of Survival is to pass as many of these trucks as possible and accumulate as many points as possible until time runs out. And when the time does run out, it's sudden-death and the entire course will be flooded with even more barrels, until you wreck yourself for good. Other modes include the usual such as Race and Elimination (last place driver gets eliminated when timer reaches zero). Trust me when I say that Split/Second is just an absolutely adrenaline filled rush, and definitely one of the best action-racers I've played in a long time.
Visually, Split/Second runs extremely smooth with never a framerate hiccup to be found. The game engine is always doing a ton of work, especially when you consider the kind of drama that goes on all around you, it's pretty intense stuff to render. The backgrounds feature massive structures and the draw-in distance is superb when you've got a vast view outside of the course. I also absolutely love the simplistic HUD that keeps the screen extremely clean and allows you to judge each and every turn very accurately. That said, there are some minor visual hitches that need to be addressed. For starters, anti-aliasing is sorely missing. Jagged lines are very prevalent all over the screen, marring some of fantastic details in this, otherwise good looking game. Keen eyes will also notice some pop-up here and there, usually small stuff like smoke or a shadow. Regardless, Split/Second is still a good looking game that moves at a great pace and boasts a whole bunch of eye-candy around every corner.
The audio is the standard: bassy-beats, voice over that guides you through the game, and lots of sounds that go "kaboom!" Blur has pretty much the same offerings, but Split/Second does it better. First off, the soundtrack in Split/Second is a bit more varied and not nearly as repetitive. Second, and most important, the sound effects are far more pronounced here than the other game. Where as in Blur attacks felt practically hollow, Split/Second delivers a much punchier sound that'll please your ears. Still, perhaps Black Rock could've turned up the 'boom' just a bit more - I want my ribs to crack in a game this wild.
All in all, if you like games like Burnout, MotorStorm, and the like, there's no question that you'll love Split/Second. The game boasts terrific heart-racing gameplay, great presentation, awesome game mechanics, very tight controls, solid sense of speed, bright visuals, and a bunch of replay value. This is definitely one of those games you'll keep coming back to time and time again.
6/10/2010 Arnold Katayev