It seems like there are three main kinds of racing games. There are the simulation racers, which are all about realistic driving and jaw-dropping graphics. I’m not that big on those. There are kart racers, fun party games that are all about wacky hijinks. And then there are the arcade racers. Games, like Burnout, that skip realism and getting the licensing rights of cars in favor of making the racing more exciting. If a simulation racing game is NASCAR, then an arcade racer is The Fast and the Furious. Blackrock’s Split/Second is probably the purest attempt so far to deliver that ideal.
The game is set in the reality of a show called “Split/Second,” in which drivers compete in a series of events in locations filled with explosives and other hazards. In the single player season, you’ll play through 12 episodes, each with a number of events. There’s the simple race, elimination and time trials events, as well as several more inspired offerings. In one mode you’ll have to dodge a barrage of missiles from an enemy helicopter, in another you have to pass trucks that are dropping an alarming number of exploding barrels.
Split/Second makes a wonderful first impression. The events all fun at first, the game looks great, and the creativity behind all the destruction is breathtaking. However, once you’re a few episodes in, the shallowness of the game shows itself. There aren’t many tracks to race on. The rubberbanding of the AI gets really bad, to the point where I would use on of the first cars in the game instead of all my sexy new unlocks. Some events seem to demand perfection from the driver to get first place, which I guess would be fair if I hadn’t easily gotten first in everything for the first few episodes.
The game controls well; steering felt tight, although it did feel like a lot of the late-game cars were made just to drift out of your hands. I love the UI. Everything you need is shown right under your car, which looks really good and means you never get distracted looking in the corner of the screen. As you’re racing you’ll bid up power by jumping, getting in close calls, drifting and drafting. When you’ve built up enough, you can trigger Power Plays which move obstacles, blow stuff up, and, on the most powerful level, can even alter the route. They’re triggered easily and are a great mechanic.
If I hadn’t finished Split/Second, this review probably would have been more positive. The game is a real thrill to play with friends or as a weekend rental. But the season is long enough that the game lost a lot of its charm. The ending (or at least the ending that I got) teases a sequel, and with a greater variety of tracks, cars and less rubberbandy AI, this could be a real winner.