Split/Second isn’t a video game. It’s a TV show.
Disney’s latest racing slash action slash stuntman driving experience is a pretty unique force to be reckoned with out there in the video game world. It takes a seldom seen genre and flushes out ridiculously fun gameplay that almost seems believable.
Starting off with what the game does uniquely is the setting and storyline. Most racing games rely on the tournament aspect of gameplay, and while Split/Second doesn’t drastically differ, it does it in a unique way. Rather than being a strict tournament with no rhyme or reason, Split/Second is set on a massive soundstage and is a television event taking place over twelve episodes. It’s an interesting storyline that hasn’t been done before, which adds a great dynamic that makes you feel like you’re actually in a reality show, but not in a Lost: via Domus kind of way. Yuck.
The only game that really reminds me of Split/Second is the Stuntman series. But Stuntman’s fatal flaw was that it require near pixel perfect precision to be able to complete any level. There would be the same set of obstacles and a few dozen restarts before you’d master the level. If you could call memorization mastering the level.
Oh, right… then there’s Burnout. Okay, Split/Second is not like Burnout in any way, in my opinion. The comparison will inevitably be made, but Split/Second has something above and beyond Burnout, and that’s realism. It isn’t believable that just tapping a car in Burnout would cause them to wreck, so in Split/Second, you need to set off an explosion or really ram them to get anything substantial to happen. With that said, it isn’t terribly difficult to do so. Split/Second relies more heavily on environmental damage to cause damage to others rather than just ramming them, which I find more satisfying even though it is only usually a button click away.
With that said, just like Splinter Cell Conviction’s mark and execute feature, you have to earn “Power Plays” in Split/Second in order to take out your opponents. You do this by drifting and drafting behind opponents. The dynamic works well and forces you to do some spectacular moves which ends up benefiting the player in the end.
The storyline of the television episodes is very well thought out. Each of the twelve episodes has 6 different ‘events’, ranging from races, to arcade racing experiences and new game modes like dodging helicopter missiles and exploding barrels falling off the back of trucks. This gives a total of 70 events, although there is some repetition in them given that there are only about four tracks in the game. With that said, each track has two or three variations within it, but I felt the repetition to get a bit stale, especially because it didn’t fit that episode eleven had the same track as episode two.
Graphics on the game are excellent. You can tell that the artists had too much fun with it because there is an insane amount of detail even where it doesn’t need to be. There are service ladders hidden between trailers on the double 18-wheelers that you don’t see unless you’re going through in slow-motion or happen to catch a quick glimpse at them. Sadly enough, the game is done a massive disservice by running at 720p instead of full HD. The Xbox 360 and PS3 are both more than capable of running these games at full resolution, and in 2010, for a racing game, it’s an absolute must. Sure, there are plenty of explosions and things going on at any given time, but that just means that 1080p becomes that much more of a necessity. It’s not like this is coming hot off the heels of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, either. While arguably in a different genre, that game was released over two full years ago and was full 1080p before most people even had HD sets in their living rooms!
The sound is an interesting point. There is one background track. But that’s okay. The audio wizards at developer Black Rock Studios worked some pretty awesome magic that changes the depth and volume of the music depending on the events of the game. While this isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this, it’s the first I’ve seen it in a racing game and have it be successful to boot. It’s these little details that polish the game very nicely.
This game is surprisingly easy to take seriously. All too often, arcade destroy-your-opponent racers are so over the top that they provide thrills at the expense of realism. This one, while still over the top in every sense of the word, has a quality about it that makes it feel possible. If only somewhat.
Split/Second isn’t the longest game ever; I completed the main episodic challenges in about eight hours, which may seem ridiculously short compared to most racers, but this isn’t a typical racer. The idea is not on massive customization or a ridiculous set of licensed cars. In fact, there are no licensed cars in Split/Second, but again, that isn’t the point. We’re going for more arcade extravagance than hyper-realism here. And at the end of the day, while it might be just like a cheesy reality show, Split/Second delivers.