Split Second makes one hell of a first impression. I played the demo and as soon as a plane came crashing towards me while I tore down a runway, I knew I had to have this game. It ranks amongst some of the best “holy shit” moments I’ve had in a game, at least in the last while. Thankfully this is only one of many “holy shit” moments Split Second throws at you. Skyscrapers crumble in front of you, cruise ships crash into docks while you are driving along them, wrecking balls try to smash you off the road, and all of it looks fantastic. The problem is that at some point the magic of those moments is going to fade away, and what you’re left with after that is a solid, but often frustrating racer.
Split Second is built around the mechanic of blowing up objects on or around the track to take down your opponent (known in the game as Power Plays), and what a fine mechanic it is. It’s unique and incredibly easy to pull off. Drifting, drafting and just plain old fancy driving will cause a meter to fill and once it’s full enough, with the push of a single button you can, for example, cause a bridge to smash into pieces on to the track, amongst tons of other things. It’s a really satisfying feeling when your timing is spot on and you take down multiple opponents with a helicopter carrying a dump truck (oh yes, that is a thing you can do in this game). Since much of the game centers on this one concept, it was crucial they pulled it off and I’m happy to report that they absolutely did.
These power plays don’t just help with taking down the competition, but also completely reshape the track as you go along. If on the first lap somebody topples a tower, then on the second lap you are going to be driving through it’s interior and coming out on the rooftops. It keeps you on your toes and adds another level of strategy to the races. I found one race in particular a lot easier if on the last lap I saved up a full meter and took down a skyscraper. It would usually take out just about every car in front of me, giving me just enough time to pull out in front and take first place. You see? Strategy.
What makes the experience that much better is that Split Second looks and sounds amazing. The developers said they were going for a Michael Bay/ Jerry Bruckheimer feel with this game and they pulled it off to great success. Much of the game has that bizarre perpetual sunset feel to it where it’s never quite day but also not night. It’s easily one of the best looking racers I have ever seen. It absolutely has that Michael Bay style, with the one exception being it’s not terrible. It’s also silky smooth with nary a frame rate hiccup to be found, which is even more impressive considering the sheer amount of insanity happening on screen at nearly all times. I also really like what they did with the UI, presenting it in a way so it’s easy to monitor, but entirely unobtrusive. Long story short, Split Second is a great looking title.
The sound design is very impressive as well, at least for the most part. The music is a little underwhelming. It does its duty of sounding like typical action movie fare, but it’s completely forgettable. The actual audio effects though are pitch perfect. When you have buildings and planes crashing all around you, that shit has got to be LOUD, and they nailed it. Each explosion has some real weight behind it that really helps sell the onscreen action.
A lot of Split Second works so well that it makes its shortcomings all the more crushing. It really doesn’t have too many of them, but the ones that are there really diminish from the experience.
In terms of single player, the primary mode in Split Second is Season. You see the whole idea here is that Split Second is a game show you are competing on. That’s about the extent of the story but the game actually does a good job portraying that TV show dynamic, complete with closing show credits and teasers for the following episodes. As a sheer concept it works, I just have some issues with the execution.
For the first few episodes of the Season (there are 12 in total) everything was going great. I was coming in first most of the time, and if not then usually I was at least in 2nd or 3rd. Then around the 7th or 8th Episode, something happened. The AI racers seemed to get, not so much smarter as way more aggressive. I would be in first place only to have 4 or 5 cars speed past me for no real discernable reason. It’s not as though I had crashed or botched a turn, they just all of a sudden became much faster than me. I would blow them up but a few seconds later they were right back on my ass. Yes unfortunately this game is guilty of the ole rubber band AI and it can make some races absolutely infuriating. I try not to swear at games but man Split Second heard some pretty colourful phrases.
Thankfully I found a way to work around this issue. For the first half of the game I would always select the fastest car I had available to me, because you know, I’m a sensible human being. However after countless losses I decided to try something different and selected the actual worst car you can drive. I then proceeded to win the next 20 races with minimal trouble. The AI still pulled a lot of cheap moves, especially in the final race, but I was having an easier time overall. So there you go, unlocking cars to use in single player is essentially pointless. You can just stick with the first car available and it will make things a lot easier.
Although unlocking the cars in Season mode may not help you much there, they become essential once you move over to the online multiplayer. Unless you have unlocked the faster cars in the single player, you can’t select them here. So if you’re playing against a group of people who have finished the Season, you don’t stand a chance. You’ll be stuck driving those beginner cars and will be absolutely crushed. This takes away a great deal of enjoyment from the multiplayer. Even when you have the high-end cars, the multiplayer is still a little underwhelming. The frame rate remains great but a lack of modes and an increasingly sparse community means you may not get a whole lot of mileage outside of the single player.
Despite those complaints, I do still recommend Split Second as it does need to be experienced. The first time you see some of the events unfold is pretty breathtaking, and the game itself is a lot of fun. It’s just too bad that things start to unravel the longer you stick with it.