Taker4ever's Split/Second Review
- Highly original concept
- Excellent implementation of main gameplay
- Great variety of destruction, particularly route changers
- Good variety of game modes
- Very well designed and planned tracks
- A very good arcade racer in it's own right
- Brilliant graphics
- Some of the worst rubber-banding ever seen in a racer
- Only 12 tracks, some of which borrow extensively from each other
- Online works but is very basic and empty
- Several very difficult Detonator challenges
Let me start this review by saying one thing - never has a game had a more appropriate title. Split/Second is all about lightning reactions, impossibly small margins of error, being one move ahead of your opponents at all time. It is a game of timed chess...except with exploding kings and queens.
The premise of Split/Second is simple - to beat your opponents by using the track itself as a weapon. You do this by using power plays, which are earned by drifting, drafting, jumps and generally stylish driving. You have two level one power-play slots, which are usually in the form of smaller explosions, such as a bus at the side of the road being fired into your path, or a helicopter dropping an explosive barrel. These can also be used to open shortcuts, often a vital part of winning some of the tighter races. Where Split/Second really comes into it's own, however, is Level 2 power-plays - fill all three bars and you can unleash some of the most devastating destruction ever seen in a videogame. Entire towers collapse, dams burst, Boeing 747's crash onto the track, ships crush an entire wharf. Make no mistake about it, no matter how many times you see these, the novelty doesn't wear off - they are incredible sections of video-game design, and of course, your most useful weapon for winning races.
However, winning races is not a simple affair - and this is due to the very excessive presence of rubber-banding or 'catch-up' AI. At it's very best, the margins are tight and your opponents are challenging. At it's very worst, near the end of the Season mode, the rubber-banding AI simply gets out of control. Even with the fastest car in the game (which incidentally is available for free download from the Playstation Store), your opponents are STILL far faster than you. If you have the audacity to develop a 4 second lead - a relatively large one in this game of tight margins - expect the chasing pack to overtake you within 2 seconds, making your ludicrously fast sports car look like a Nissan Micra at a Grand Prix. It doesn't make winning races impossible, but the margins become impossibly small, and require such a degree of pre-race power-play planning (and a great deal of luck) that it unfortunately sucks some of the fun out of the game. Mercifully, a top three finish is all that is required to progress through the game, and this is achievable - but if you're a trophy/achievement hunter, expect to spend many fruitless and frustrating hours attempting to win every race and event in the game. Perhaps this is the central contradiction of Split/Second - the game's main selling point is destroying other cars, but this is not possible if you're in 1st place for an entire race. As such, a degree of rubber-banding is necessary, and indeed the game manages this for around half of the season - however, it unfortunately gets out of control in the second half.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. As well as races and elimination events (where the last placed player at each countdown is eliminated), there are a few more game modes to hold your attention. Survival is an excellent feast of explosive delight, as you attempt to overtake trucks dropping explosive barrels before you are either destroyed or the time runs out. Air Attack and Air Revenge see you dodging missiles from an overhead helicopter, with the Revenge element allowing you to deflect these missiles back at the chopper once your power play meter gets filled. Last of all is Detonator, a time trial event but with a twist - you're dodging automatically exploding power plays along the way. Detonator is, if nothing else, a great way to learn the tracks for races, noting which power plays are more effective than others. While these events are largely enjoyable, it is notable that several Detonator events - Downtown Central, Canyon and Airplane Graveyard - have incredibly small margins of error. If you beat the best time by 0.01 seconds, consider that a massive success, because many players won't manage it at all.
The game's 12 main tracks are all expertly designed and look stunning, with the route changers power-plays in particular very well implemented. However, several of them take place within broadly the same locales, and indeed a route changer power play on a track like Canyon will see you ending up in the first half of the Airplane Graveyard track for a while. It can be a bit anticlimatic for this to happen, but nevertheless, all the tracks are excellent and this is only a minor point.
The last issue to examine is online. Mercifully, rubber-banding is not present here, making it much more a case of who knows the tracks best and who can handle their car the best. The online races themselves are smooth and lag-free, with loading times (both online and offline) some of the fastest I've seen in a game. However, online feels a bit threadbare, with only a minimal number of game modes (Survival, Race and Eliminator) and no real stat-tracking or other goodies. Still, at least it's there, and provides a welcome distraction from the single-player. And if you're not an online gamer, a local split-screen mode for two players is excellent.
In conclusion, Split/Second really is a game of two sides, and incredibly close to being top-class. On one hand, the concept is excellent, the gameplay superb and the overall track/vehicle design is perfect. Yet the excessive rubber-banding turns close-fought but competitive races into bouts of frustration, because no matter how fast or perfectly you drive, the AI will always - always - be faster than you. Yet that brings us full circle...because if the AI is ahead of you, that gives you one more opportunity to blow the crap out of them. And ultimately, that's what you're playing Split/Second for in the first place.