- Publisher: Disney Interactive
- Developer: Black Rock Studios
- ESRB Rating: “E10" Everyone 10+
- Genre: Racing
- Pros: Great visuals; power plays blow things up real nice; fun racing
- Cons: Some mediocre modes; ultimately boils down to simple pattern recognition
Split/Second is set up like a TV show where you race through a 12-episode season to win a championship. It isn't normal racing, however, as each track has been specially rigged with explosives that the drivers can activate during the race in order to wreck their opponents or open up new sections of track.
Each episode has six events. Each event is worth points, and those points add up top unlock new vehicles and events and qualify for the next episode. You don't have to win every event to progress through the game, so if you are stronger at certain race types you can focus on them and not worry too much about how you finish elsewhere. It is a nice system.
Race types include normal races with 8 cars, time trials where you try to set the best time while the game automatically triggers the hazards around you, "Air Strike" where a helicopter shoots missiles at the track and you have to avoid them, "Air Revenge" where you reflect missiles back at a helicopter to destroy it, an elimination mode where the last place car is removed, and "Survival" where trucks drive around the track tossing out explosives and you have to avoid the explosives and pass the trucks to earn points. The race types add quite a bit of variety, but I gotta say the Air Strike events are awful compared to everything else.
The main attraction here is the power plays and blowing stuff up to screw over your opponents. Unfortunately, the "wow" factor of this wears off and stops being impressive after a few races. Also, you will start recognizing patterns in the A.I. and in the hazards pretty quickly. The power play triggers are always in the same place, so it isn't hard to figure out where the safe paths around everything are. You can also sort of play "defensive offense" by blowing all of the power plays the first two laps so there isn't anything left for the A.I. to use against you on the final lap. The game is all about pattern recognition. I'm not saying it is easy or the A.I. won't still trip you up, but after you see a course a few times the game is much, much easier.
One other comment. There are lots of vehicles to choose from, but only a few really good ones. Some handle so loosely that are almost undriveable. Others might be blazing fast, but accelerate so slowly that their top speed isn't worth it. Even though I unlocked a ton of cars, I only actually used three to beat the entire career mode.
Online play is included, of course, but it is kind of bare bones. There aren't any options to set vehicle or lap limits or even pick the track in public games. Human players do offer better, more unpredictable competition than the A.I. does, however, so it is definitely worth playing even if it doesn't have a ton of features.
Graphically, Split/Second is fantastic looking. The tracks are all very distinct and surprisingly detailed. The cars are also very nice looking, and even though they aren't licensed, you can immediately tell which real car each one represents. I also really liked the fact that your car gets decorated with decals representing the Achievements you earn in the game. The real star here is the explosions and lighting and other special effects. I'm also a fan of the super minimal HUD.
The sound is also quite good. The car sounds are very nice and the sound effects for all of the destruction you're causing are top notch. The music isn't spectacular - pretty much "epic action movie" orchestral that repeats way too often.
In the end, Split/Second is a fantastic new take on arcade racing that race fans will really enjoy. It isn't particularly deep, but even after you learn the patterns and figure everything out you keep coming back. It is addictive and satisfying and strikes a perfect difficulty balance that rarely frustrates and instead motivates you to keep playing because you know exactly what you're doing wrong. I'm not sure how it will hold up in the long term because it is so reliant on pattern recognition and repetition, but it is definitely fun enough you'll spend 15-20 hours finishing the career, scrounging up achievements, and playing online before you get too tired of it. I highly recommend it for a rental, but it should be a definite purchase if/when it sees a price drop.