Giant Bomb Review


Split/Second Review

  • X360
  • PS3

Split/Second's high-gloss mayhem is best-in-class, though it peaks early, and the chaos can overwhelm the actual racing.

 Welcome to Split/Second. Now blow everything up!
That Split/Second is a racing game is almost beside the point. Black Rock Studio--which previously developed the gorgeous ATV racer Pure, as well as games in the MotoGP and ATV Offroad Fury franchises when it was still part of the Climax Group--understands the visceral satisfaction of a good racing game, and that understanding is apparent in Split/Second's constantly careening handling. But, like the Bruckheimer films it mines much of its stylistic inspiration from, it's clear from the word go that Split/Second is more about derailing the race with obsessively orchestrated explosions while looking absolutely fantastic than it is about the actual racing. Don't take this as a negative; it's simply true, and it makes for an almost euphoric experience, at least for the first few hours. Like any good sugar rush, Split/Second peaks early, and it peaks fantastically, but there are (much to my personal surprise) diminishing returns on the explosions, and the increasingly flagrant computer competitors can curdle the chaos that started off oh-so-sweet.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here, as there's nothing terribly self-explanatory about the incredible contrivances that make Split/Second unique, and occasionally great. Speaking broadly, I've taken to describing it as Burnout in reverse--rather than throwing cars at the environments to see what happens, you get your warm-and-fuzzies in Split/Second by throwing the environment at the cars. This Burnout comparison holds up, I think, beyond the concept stage, as Split/Second has a similar zest for destruction, and it too rewards the player for drifting, drafting, and jumping. What you get in Split/Second for your driving derring-do, though, is energy towards a three-part power-play meter. Power plays, in the simplest terms, are explosive environmental triggers you can use to derail, or simply destroy, competing racers--and if you're not careful, yourself--and they are the absolute crux of Split/Second. 

 "Power play" is just another word for "fun button."
If you've got enough juice in the power-play meter, and the timing is right, you'll see a little icon pop up above the vehicle of an opponent that's in front of you, and with the press of a button, something awful will happen. Each track is littered with power play opportunities both big and small. Some of them you'll see repeated throughout the game, such as buses, semi trucks, and clusters of taxi cabs that will explode out into the middle of the track, or hovering helicopters that will drop explosive barrels on command. The best power plays, though, are unique to the location, and often involve some large structure falling violently onto the track. 

You can also tap into your power-play meter to open up shortcuts. Bigger power plays will drain all three sections of your meter, as will the dramatic mid-race course changes, which are really Split/Second's pièce de résistance. Skyscrapers will tip, cruise ships will run aground, and massive dams will crumble with a profound immediacy as you hurtle down the course doing a simulated buck-twenty. Couching these incredible disasters in a racing game is the purest genius of Split/Second, because there's ultimately no avoiding the chaos that's unfurling in front of you--the best you can hope is to dodge the worst parts of it. There's actually a replay option that will occasionally pop up after you've done something truly atrocious, but watching these disasters from a static perspective is comparatively kind of boring.

Split/Second brokers heavily in lookalike landmarks for its mocked-up city, and it seems pretty deliberate that you might be reminded of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Space Needle, or the Hoover Dam while playing the game. There's certainly an extra charge to be had from seeing recognizable structures come tumbling down, but the game is also clear about making the whole thing "safe," at least from a weird, twice-removed psychological standpoint. You see, this isn't a real city. I mean, yeah, it's a video game, so you already inherently know it's not a "real" city. But even within the reality of the game, it's actually just a giant, elaborate soundstage built specifically for an impossibly big-budget reality TV competition called Split/Second, which is kicking off its next season. 

 It looks even better in motion. No, really.
While the temptation to go all Running Man with the reality competition concept would seem overwhelming--with the evil network execs and the wrongfully imprisoned contestant and the hypocritical hand-wringing about entertainment gone too far--the game uses a surprisingly light touch. The reality show idea mostly serves to justify the power plays, and to provide some structure for the single-player experience, which splits the game up into twelve episodes, each consisting of five races. That's not to say it doesn't commit to the idea, with really keen touches like teaser promos for the next episode that run while the credits for the episode you just finished roll at the bottom of the screen. The quality of the packaging in Split/Second isn't limited to the bumpers, though, as this is from top to bottom a really amazing-looking racing game.  The sensation of speed is bracing, all of the explosive environmental effects look top-notch, and the whole game is swathed in verité touches like motion blur, camera shake, light bleed, and some heavy vignetting around the edges of the screen that really amp up the sense of reality. Even if it's not supposed to be a real place within the context of the game, it's so dense with gritty, vulcanized detail that it's convincing enough.

 This only reaffirms my hatred of helicopters.
There's a lot of straight racing in the single-player season--at least what passes for "straight" in Split/Second--though there are elimination events as well, where the last player in the pack is eliminated at regular intervals, until just one racer remains. There are survival races where rolling semi trucks throw explosive barrels out the back, and you're scored on how many of these trucks you can pass without getting blowed up. The weirdest, and least successful of the single-player events involves you dodging incoming missile attacks from a marauding helicopter. Million-dollar-super-car-versus-military-attack-helicopter is an idea tailor-made for Split/Second, and even on paper it sounds like 27 kinds of awesome, but the scoring is complicated and seems arbitrary, and it goes against the staunchly pro-speed, pro-destruction campaign that the rest of the game rides on.

So some of the events are duds, but the two things that really temper my appreciation for Split/Second are repetition, cheatin'-ass AI opponents, and repetition. Repetition is kind of an inherent issue for racing games in general, since your performance often hinges on knowing, or at least being able to anticipate, what's coming next. But Split/Second is all about the shock of first impressions, and repetition is death for surprises. The first time you see a big location-specific power play go off, you're too gobsmacked by what you're seeing to really react. The second time, you have some idea of what's coming and can prepare yourself accordingly. By the third time you're not even looking at what's blowing up, since, if you're doing the same race three times in a row, you're probably preoccupied with struggling against the aforementioned cheatin'-ass AI opponents.

 Chances are, you won't stay in first very long.
For me, the single-player game actually maintained the illusion that it was putting up a fair fight until I reached about the halfway point. Maybe I was too distracted by all the bedlam, but that's about when I noticed that opponents whose vehicles I had thoroughly outclassed were consistently whizzing past me at the final turn in huge packs, turning my first-place medal win into a worthless fifth-place position. That was also about the point that I realized that, with no recourse against the racers behind you, being in first place in Split/Second is kind of dull, and occasionally frustrating. 

This confluence led me to a weird, contrived gameplay style where I would try and outsmart the simple rubberband AI by deliberately hanging out in the middle of the pack for most of the race, only to really break out in the back half of the final lap. The constant chaos already makes it seem like you're barely in control of your fate; the obviously rigged competition makes your impact on the outcome at least feel diminished. Hell, maybe they should've gone for an evil executive subplot after all. The eight-player online multiplayer, as you might imagine, is unfettered by such AI issues, though it's still somewhat affected by the increased familiarity brought on by repetition. 

One of the toughest parts of reviewing a video game is assessing how much value to place on, well, value. If you were going by the pure math of hours-to-dollars, Split/Second might not seem great, and in the long-term, there's not a huge amount of replayability here. Yet I can't help but place a high value on my first few hours with Split/Second, which were action-packed with more jaw-dropping thrills than any other recent game I care to recall. While I have a number of concerns about the overall execution of Split/Second, the lows are well worth tolerating for highs that are so good, so crazy, and so face-numbingly intense.
51 Comments Refresh
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Posted by Darghan

Nice review!

Posted by seanvail99

Looks good!

Posted by armaan8014

Gotto play this!!

Posted by sjolle


Posted by TheYear20XX

Good review, Ryan. I'm glad this turned out well, these guys deserve all the success in the world after how great Pure was.

Posted by Rhaknar

i liked the demo, but the rubber band AI pissed me off, and most reviews I've read say its a problem.Was expecting 3 stars to be honest.

Posted by wolf_blitzer85

The demo was pretty fun, good to hear that this looks like a decent game.

Posted by Kombat

Doesn't really sound like the game's for me, but from the text here I can tell that it's going to be plenty exciting for the Burnout fans out there.  I might give it a rent or something this summer when I have considerably more time (and money) to play games that are under my radar.

Edited by TheKing

My personal GOTY so far.

Posted by Death_Burnout

I feel Pure peaked very early also.

Posted by TerraDelu

Hey Beavis, he said "Fun button". 

Posted by get2sammyb

Already got it on order. Loved the demo. Very excited about this game.

Posted by Steve_C
"you're scored on how many of these trucks you can pass without getting blowed up."   
 Very sloppy for all your flourishes of vocabulary, Ryan.
Good review. I like how easily they can justify a sequel, with it just being a second season of the show.
Posted by ISmoochyI

looks pretty cool

Posted by Vitor

Now if only I knew what the hell was up with the UK release (no retailers listing a physical copy and does that do have told me they're not expecting any stock any way) - only on Direct 2 Drive so far and for nearly twice the price of most normal PC releases.  
With no official Split/Second or Black Rock Studio forums to turn to, I'm really at a loss. I guess I could always import but I don't see the sense in cutting off the PC sales only in the UK.... Great review though, makes me want to (try and) get the game even more.

Posted by Ryan
@Steve_C said:
" "you're scored on how many of these trucks you can pass without getting blowed up."    Very sloppy for all your flourishes of vocabulary, Ryan.  Good review. I like how easily they can justify a sequel, with it just being a second season of the show. "
What makes you think that wasn't deliberate? You gotta know the rules to know how to break 'em! 
Posted by swamplord666

finished the game twice through focus testing and didn't get tired of it :) it's really worth playing!

Posted by Swaboo

Played the demo a few times and I found it pretty boring... looked amazing graphically tho.

Edited by EgoCheck616

Great review, Ryan. Thanks for the heads up. 
I've played the demo and enjoyed the game quite a bit. It feels very much like Left 4 Dead but for racing, with varying encounters being found along the way. Seems right up my alley. 

Posted by LethalKi11ler

the demo was amazing but I don't think I'm willing to spend 50 euros on a racing game.

Posted by sixpin

I'm really looking forward to playing Split/Second. Ryan you've confirmed my purchase, but I'm going to have to wait until I finish Red Dead Revolver, Alan Wake, 3D Dot Game Heroes, and Skate 3... Then there is Super Mario Galaxy 2, Blur, and Mod Nation Racers. Too many games!

Posted by EndrzGame

Pure was great. While this game looks like something that I'd enjoy I'm saving my money for blur. I've played the multi player demo practically everyday since it came to XBL and I'm having a ball with blur. I'll probably just rent Split/Second. Good review.

Posted by Jimbo

Britannia rules the roads!  
Neat concept, but a shame about the issues - they sound like exactly the kind of issues that would send my blood pressure off the charts too.

Posted by Robitt

This game seems so american in so many ways, yet is developed by brits.
I didn't expect this game to review this well, now I think I will have to check it out. 

Posted by Ghostiet

I've played the demo - great, but at the same time totally not for me. Way too fast for my slow-ass fingers.

Posted by Trilogy

Rubberband AI? Ugh. That has to be my biggest pet peeve with racing games. It doesn't help that it's somewhat justified by the game being boring if you're in first. It's like justifying something I hate with something I hate almost as much.
Regardless, the jaw dropping actions bits and blistering sense of speed sound awesome enough for me to put this in my gamefly queue.

Posted by Tordah

This sounds even better than what I had expected. I knew the whole concept would grow old after the first few hours, just not how much. It seems to have some lasting appeal after all.

Posted by StarFoxA

I really liked Pure, so I might check this one out.

Posted by MachoFantastico

Interested in this game, but I've read it gets rather dull rather fast. Definitely getting Blur though, can't wait for that one. 

Edited by Brackynews

Nice review. Survival and elimination modes sound perfect. Seems to me they could have avoided rubberband AI and improved the single-player experience by removing the goal of first place. Instead, provide a constant stream of spawning fodder ahead of you, and you are rewarded, ala Blast Corps and Burnout Crash Mode, by the amount of mayhem caused and how much fiery death you avoid.  So many other racing games are all about speed and good driving, what the hell does racing to the head of the pack matter in a game like this?  
Might even help the replayability. Something to think about for the sequel, Splitter/Second. :)


@Steve_C said:

for all your flourishes of vocabulary, Ryan.

You mean flower-ishes?
Posted by MeatXbeatsXman

I'll hold off on this. It definitely seems worth it, but this week is overwhelmingly awesome for games.

Posted by buzz_killington

This is the first game I have bought day-one since Assassin's Creed II. OMG IT'S SO AWESOMEZZ!

Edited by 234r2we232

I'd love to see this game re-reviewed like next month, due to it seeming so gimmick-y in a bad, short-term way. So much of this game feels like fancy aesthetics used to compensate for a mediocre driving game. Which is a shame, 'cause I like Pure.

Posted by InuiTakumi23

I am really close to buying this game. And the fact that I have played the one level in the demo for at least 2 hours does say something. But I am worried about the repetitiveness of the levels and the point that Ryan made about staying in the middle of the pack until the last second and pulling out in front just to saver the fun of destruction rings true since I found myself doing that too. IDK, I'll have to way my options more. Maybe it'll just be a rental. But man, the game looks and feels soo good.

Posted by Kibblez

My next rental

Posted by Lambert

You gave this game a higher score than 3D Dot game hero?

Posted by Rasta_Zergling

Buying this as soon as I'm done with Alan Wake

Posted by mshaw006

Well done, Ryan. I liked a lot of things in here, like your note that dams crumble with "profound immediacy,"  your description of the city destruction being psychologically "twice-removed," and how you conveyed the feeling of being in first place as dull and frustrating due to the lack of recourse against your enemies at the rear. One thing I would have changed is the last phrase; I think "face-numbingly intense" is a little too much of a mouthful for its relatively small emotional impact. I may be alone in this, but, as rad as it sounds, it doesn't really get across the feeling of the intensity the same way something like "exhilaratingly intense" might. I can, however, appreciate the, I presume, intended contrast between the phrase you used and the two small, easy adjectives before it.

Posted by HaroldoNVU

Great Review. This looks like rental material for me, though. I can't see myself playing this online for more than 2 days.

Posted by CowsWithGuns

Great review Ryan!  I don't understand how other gaming websites say the game doesn't look that great.  When I played the demo I was shocked at how wonderful it looked.

Posted by hazzard4123

I really enjoyed this. Hell of a game.

Posted by zombie2011

I'll wait until Blur comes out to make any decisions about getting a racing game.

Posted by DemiGodRaven

Just a warning for Ps3 users. This game has a massive up front install so if you're planning on throwing down for TNT this Thursday you should install before hand. That way you don't fire up the game expecting to immediately go into it.

Posted by Gabenator

Quite an amazing first paragraph that you created for this one. I say five stars for that alone.

Posted by L

Black Rock games seem to make the AI very vicious at catching you up and increasing the difficulty depending on how well you are doing. I'm going to wait out a bit and get this cheaps.

Posted by SleepyDoughnut

Looks like a fantastic rental

Posted by Kazona

It's really unfortunate that the AI is always so much better than the player. Some rubber banding is understandable, but even if it's slightly too much, it can really ruin the game.

Posted by bluesun

I wish the demo had been multiplayer so I could have compared it to the Blur m/p demo... which I didn't really like. But then, I suspect that was due to there being enough latency (as in I could never get a local game) to cause me issues.

Posted by JerichoBlyth

Naaaah, I'll pass - hope you get a copy of Red Dead to review soon!

Posted by JackiJinx

Liked the TNT, love the review. 5 out of 5 stars Mr. Davis. Almost took a star off for comparing the game to a sugar-rush instead of good-old Ecstasy.

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