Racing games come explicitly in two forms, simulation racers and arcade racers. I myself enjoy both styles but my play type tends to make me more successful at arcade racers and thus I was anticipating Black Rock Studio’s latest effort, Split/Second. While demoing the game pre-release Black Rock explained the concept of the game to me as being Burnout but in reverse. Once I got the nightmarish idea of a slow moving Burnout game out of my head and actually got my hands on the game though I quickly understood what they were going for. Instead of focusing heavily on the player crashing, Split/Second gives players the control to make their opponents crash making the game about aggressive driving and strategic attacking.
Split/Second’s approach lends itself well to the fantasy world that Black Rock has established for the title. Instead of putting players into races where things are blowing up left and right with no actual context to why things are going the way they are, Black Rock has crafted the single player campaign around a season in a fictional reality racing show. Each “episode” has a different theme and a variety of different events to compete in, ranging from your standard race types like Race and Elimination to more creative modes like Survival, where you are placed on a track attempting to pass tractor trailers that are dropping exploding red barrels of death. Once an “episode” has been completed, by finishing in the top three in the episodes elite race, more episodes will unlock totaling in at 12 stages of racing mayhem.
Over the course of those 12 stages players will run into a variety of emotions from the excitement of avoiding an exploding bus that was hurtling at you to the agony of having a dilapidated cruise liner dropped on you. But the emotion that many players will feel over the final half of the game is frustration as the game gets incredibly cheap with its use of rubber banding driving tactics that can end up with a player running a perfect race only to have the AI catch up on the last turn despite having been seconds back just moments ago.
The AI issues can be directly tied to the class of car you are driving. If you just unlocked a hot new ride in the campaign you should fully expect that the competition just got more stiff, despite them driving the same cars. Its actually quite unfortunate too because the cars have a great sense of weight and speed to them but you are never really able to fully appreciate it because the AI suddenly have supercharged autos.
While there are certainly many frustrating aspects to the single player campaign it is actually quite fun to play and is some of the best arcade racing to come out since Burnout: Paradise. The game however is more of a mixed bag when one takes it online. Featuring three modes (Race, Survival and Elimination), Split/Second just throws people together in a mosh pit of players and it doesn’t work.
The biggest problem is that the cars available online are directly related to your single player progress, thus a person who has finished the 8-12 hour single player game will be far better outfitted than if you just got the game and want to burn some rubber against real people. This usually results in two different races taking place between the haves and the have nots as not even powerplays are able to even out the class discrepancies between cars. It should be noted though that if you are racing with a good car that the races are both exhilarating, fast and fair, so if you get out in front, you can actually hold onto that position.
From a technical standpoint Split/Second looks fantastic. There is a high level of detail to everything even at ultra high speeds and the game runs at a never staggering frame rate, despite explosions going off every few moments. Black Rock made a wonderful decision to make a very minimalistic HUD completely forgoing any sort of speed tracking device. This HUD really adds to the atmosphere of the game and allows the player to be fully sucked in to the racing at hand. It also sounds great, with engine sounds roaring out of the speakers with a fierceness that is to be expected of a dragon getting ready to eat its own young.
All in all Split/Second is quite the fun racer and should bring a smile to fans of Burnout: Paradise even if that smile is sometimes tinged with epic frustration.
4 out of 5.