Split/Second Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows
Genre Visceral arcade racing
Score 7  Clock score of 7
Buy from Amazon

Having just finished Split/Second last night at the midnight hour, I’m ready to talk about the experience. It was an intense, blister inducing ride that brought great joy and frustration to this veteran gamer. As I mentioned in my first hour review of the game, I’m not a fan of realistic racing games, but arcade racers like this and the Burnout series have a very special place in my heart (and on my game shelf). The first hour of the game blew me away, even though I played it almost two months ago, I remember the evening vividly. Split/Second was going to rock.

I just reread Ian’s full review of Split/Second (we received a copy of the game from Disney, the publishers, and have been passing it around the writers here - look at the perks for writing for this site!) and I really have to agree with almost every single point he made. It’s a really fun game but can be incredibly frustrating at times. I wouldn’t go as far to say as there’s all out NFL Blitz style rubber band A.I., but the computer is a very challenging opponent, and there are seven of them out there on the track with you.

There’s a list of things I found wrong with the game, but I’d really like to start off by saying that this is a really good game. If you like arcade racers like Burnout, you will enjoy Split/Second. If you like unique genre-mashing experiences, this game might be worth a try. Here’s my full review of Split/Second for the Xbox 360.

What I loved: Split/Second is a unique arcade racing game that requires not only a bit more track memorization than usual, but also an extra sense of timing to trigger “power plays” to take out opponents. Split/Second is actually set in a television show about fast cars and lots of explosions. The race tracks are actually elaborate sets lined with bomb-dropping helicopters and buildings filled with C4. As you build up your power play meter by drifting and drafting, you can trigger these explosives and hopefully cause some of your opponents ahead of you to wreck.

So unlike the Burnout series, Split/Second is really focused on indirectly fighting off your opponent. You can slam directly into your nemesis as much as you want, but you’ll barely cause him to budge. It’s much more prudent to draft him a bit to build up your power play meter and then drop an overpass on him.

The tracks are really the stars in this game, as it is your job to become ultra familiar with them so you know not only what the most effective way to take out the leader is, but also what areas of the track to steer clear of. The first time you race a track you may be triggering power plays throughout the race, but unless you fire them off at just the right moment, your deadly weapon will go sailing right by them (and might just hit you instead!). The way the game is designed though, you will become very intimate with the game’s tracks before it’s all over though (see below).

To continue with my point, each track has some features that are really quite memorable. They usually feature an epic power play, one that requires your entire meter to pull off, but when you trigger it the entire race will be changed. In one race, a needle CN-like tower will tip over and fall right onto the track forcing you to race along its side (and also crushing anyone under it when it falls). Moments like these are awesome and really set Split/Second away from its competition in terms of style. There are also other power plays that need to be triggered multiple times across a few laps to really see their effect, all of this means you need great power play management to thrive in Split/Second, adding a great layer onto one of my favorite genres.

The game plays like an arcade racer should, allowing for big drifts and fast passes while not punishing you too greatly for taking a corner too quickly or not always picking the right line. There’s a reason why I like games like this and not Gran Turismo and this is it.

Graphically, Split/Second is astounding. It has an ultra-clean, ultra-sharp look that favors it very well. There’s great motion blur and a great sense of speed as the game progresses. One thing I noticed in my first hour review is that it actually seemed to lack a a decent sense of speed, but I feel that as faster cars were unlocked it balanced out better. Explosions looks like great balls of fire and while the car wrecks aren’t as impressive as something out of Burnout Paradise, they still look pretty good coming come from a developer who hasn’t had a decade of learning what does and doesn’t work.

I also really loved the soundtrack and sound effects. The music is very dynamic and changes tune quickly and smoothly to mirror what’s going on on-screen. If you enter the final lap in first place, you will recognize the sense of urgency from the music alone. Car crashes sound appropriately crunchy, and all the different car engines are distinct and a bit musical in their own right.

Split Second Power Play

What I liked: There’s a surprising amount of variety in Split/Second outside of just plain old races. Longtime Burnout fans might remember the crash scenes where they just try to create as much mayhem and carnage at one intersection at a time. These were fun, but they were over so fast they were hard to really enjoy. Split/Second solves this by keeping the carnage right on the road. The first bonus game you will encounter pits you against a dozen or so 18-wheelers dropping exploding barrels off the back of their truck. Dodge these barrels (and the other racers who are getting blown up along the way) while trying to pass the trucks to win. This is very intense fun and easily my favorite mode in Split/Second.

The other unique bonus round pits you against a missile shooting helicopter. In the original variation, you need to dodge the missiles to rack up points. Pretty easy, but in its uber mode, you get to fire back against the helicopter! Build up your power play meter by dodging missiles and drifting around corners and eventually you’ll be able to shoot back. Take it out the fastest and you win, fun stuff with some challenging times to beat.

What I didn’t like: Split/Second becomes a difficult game as the races progress, I would say it’s teetering on the edge between what is fair and what isn’t fair, but it’s smart and the computer never quite exposes it for the full blown cheater you sometimes suspect it is. If you race fast, smart, and can effectively drift and execute power plays, you will probably win most races. The real difficulty is it’s hard to race smart when you’re racing so fast, and it’s hard to race fast when everything is blowing up around you.

I had real issues with keeping my drifting in check. At the elite levels, the computer would find near perfect lines around ever corner while I was slamming against walls and flying off cliffs (sometimes I wonder how I actually finished every race third or better). You have to be extremely disciplined in navigating corners while fending off your adversaries. Sometimes I really wished there were Burnout-style take downs available so I could at least push back against the super drifters.

I’m not trying to say that games are bad because they’re actually difficult, but Split/Second really punishes you for messing up. Like Ian said in his review, if you’re in first place and mess up a drift, you can easily fall back to fourth or further. I witnessed myself quite frequently go from the top three to eighth place after crashing one time. Split/Second can be an exercise in frustration and the later stages really force you to plan ahead and use your power plays effectively.

Another aspect of difficulty is that a lot of the power plays are designed that if perfectly executed, you don’t give your opponent any time to react. This works both ways of course, and sometimes I found myself crushed by boulders or knocked off the stage by a swinging crane with absolutely no time to react. This can be incredibly frustrating but it focuses you to learn the stages very well and not putting yourself in these kinds of situations when possible.

After the tough difficulty (which I did manage to mostly overcome with lots of perseverance), my next biggest complaint really lies with the number of courses in the game. There are really only like four locations in the game that are reused and re-routed to create a bunch of different tracks. This means that from one race to another, you may follow the same route 75% of the time and only deviate for a bit each lap. This also means that things get old. Quickly. Even the very last race of the game takes place in the downtown level with no major changes from three or four previous go-arounds. I know a lot of time went into balancing these tracks and filling them with both simple and grandiose power plays, but if you’re going to feature 72 races/challenges, you’d better be ready to offer up a bit more variety.

Finally, the game is just a bit glitchy at times. Respawning after a crash works most of the time, but periodically you’ll be placed right in front of another obstacle and immediately crash again. There’s also some interesting graphical glitches including some major clipping problems during replays. All in all though, this is a pretty minor point and it doesn’t detract from the final product at all.

Split Second Destruction


Gameplay: Great arcade racing gameplay with some tough A.I. You will be challenged by Split/Second as the game progresses and it is a frustrating and rewarding experience.

Fun Factor: Yes, frustrating, but also very fun. Try not to throw your controller though with the repetitiveness.

Graphics and Sound: Beautiful game with tons of carnage and a great aural experience. Play this game with headphones or surround sound, well worth it.

Story: Yes, Split/Second actually has a story! Sort of. It’s good enough to give the game some structure but also stays out of the way when it needs to. And would you believe it, Split/Second actually ends with a “To be continued...”?!

Overall: 7
Split/Second is a fun if repetitive and frustrating experience. Add some more tracks and you would have a truly awesome racer, but as it is, this is a very good game that is a definite must-play for all arcade racing fans. If anything, it’ll tide you over to Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit next month by the Burnout team...