Review: My first 10 out of 10 score in 10+ years of reviewing.
There are two things that I don't do often. First, I don't give out 10s very often. In fact, I've never given a console game a perfect score in my 11 years of reviewing video games. Second, I don't get quoted as often as other reviews, partly because I resist using cheap sentences without qualifiers. Publishers like concise quotes such as ?This is the game of the year,? when I prefer to spell it all out: ?While this can be considered game of the year, it still contains a few minor bugs. Here's what they are.? This review shall be different.
Split/Second is the most fun I've had playing a racing game in years. Split/Second is akin to a Disney thrill ride that's filled with explosive racing action at all the right moments. Split/Second makes Blur play like Bleh.
The concept of Split/Second isn't far from Burnout in that it rewards risky driving, but amps up the destruction by replacing the turbo button with a detonator switch. This fits into the game's dangerous, obstacle-filled reality TV show premise, which casts eight racers as stunt car drivers on a live action set. By doing the usual drifting, jumping and drafting behind rival cars, players fill up a powerplay meter and can set off explosives strategically placed throughout the tracks.
The first time I used a powerplay was when a rival car was scraping paint with my starter vehicle. Having already drifted around a corner, I had enough energy stored up to pulverize this annoyance with one of these devastating events. As soon as the action icon appeared over the roof of my rival, I pressed the X button and BAM! Out of nowhere came a bus, almost as if it were driven by Sandra Bullock in Speed, which I guess would mean Jesse James was operating the rival car. Since I was right up against that rival car, now a burnt piece of wreckage in my rearview mirror, I narrowly missed the hurtling bus and was an inch from being obliterated too. I had to calm my nerves because I was still racing a winding track at full throttle, matching the speeds of Burnout, but as if I was always using the turbo button.
There are disadvantages to leading the pack right out of the gate. You can't draft behind vehicles and powerplays are only triggered while tailing rivals ahead of you. No matter what position you're in, however, the track never stays the same from lap to lap. Most of the obstacles are hanging from overhead helicopters, waiting for someone to trigger their release. From explosive barrels that rain down to full-size dump trucks that crash into buildings and shower debris, seeing these helicopters as you near the finish line in first place will scare you worse than someone with black helicopter conspiracy theories.
Split/Second contains 72 events within 12 ?reality TV? episodes, and although shortcuts can be found in each race, they almost always contain hazards. Tailing a rival who decides to make a right turn through the gas station shortcut is perfectly set up for an explosive takedown each and every time. Switching up the scenario by taking the shortcut risk yourself doesn't always end happily because the AI can be brutal in this one-difficulty setting game. But, believe it or not, being incinerated in a rival's explosion isn't the worst thing that can happen. Triggering a powerplay event and running into your own scripted disaster hurts the most, especially when the game throws up embarrassing text: ?You Wrecked Yourself!?
Timing powerplay events feels a lot like waiting for the ideal moment to launch a red shell in Mario Kart. And, like a good kart racing game, you can go from worst to first with a string of perfectly timed powerplays. In addition to altering the track and watching a tower ? one that's similar to the Seattle Space Needle - topple over on the leading racer, you get the fulfillment of driving straight through the car's burnt-out debris without a hiccup in your acceleration. That's how Split/Second rolls with its vindictive satisfaction.
The game gets better as you progress because it goes beyond eight-car races with a variety of new event types, starting with Elimination. Similar to what's found in the WipEout series, a clock counts down from 30 to zero and the game automatically executes the eighth car. The countdown resets and the same thing happens to the drivers in positions seven through two until there's a winner. Powerplays become your friend in the last throes of this game type - a game type that should be in all racing games that want to inspire an increasing level of intensity.
Survival is just as intense and 100% unique. It puts your car behind a convoy of tractor-trailers that drop blue and red barrels. While it's easy to pass the trucks, it's difficult to dodge the never-ending stream of barrels because the linear roads are oh-so-conveniently narrow. Passing a succession of trucks by weaving in and out of the way of blue barrels, which slow you down and knock you off course, and red barrels, which count as an instant kill, takes skill and builds up a combo score. This unexpected game type only gets better online, where a total of eight racers can dodge and weave together.
Single Race, Elimination and Survival are part of Split/Second's online mode, but the remaining game types, Detonator, Air Strike and Air Assault, are not. Detonator is a so-so game type that forces you to race a specific track with a specific car and beat the ?lap time? before exploding. Since there are no rivals, the game sets in motion all sorts of awesome-looking, but truly unhelpful powerplays as you attempt to beat the clock. Air Strike and Air Assault are also time attack-oriented game types, but they have you dodging and weaving cones. Well, not ?cones,? per say. They're more like missiles that rain down from a helicopter and onto the road in front of you. Avoiding the locked-on targets where they'll land is the sole premise of Air Strike. Air Assault has you earn attack power with every avoided rocket and allows you to redirect the next set of missiles to the threatening helicopter until it crashes.
Finally, there are a total of 12 episode-ending Elite races in the single-player mode. The game gives your seven rivals humorous names and tracks their progress in a GP of sorts. Going back to earn first place in this game type and all of the others offers some replay value along with the online mode. Placing first in any of the Detonator races is the biggest challenge.
There are also a variety of ways that Split/Second brings players back to the starting line again and again thanks to tracking miscellaneous records. Calculating the longest drifts, jumps and drafts will give stat-addicts a second addiction. I also appreciate the handy messages that flash on the screen like, ?2.5 seconds ahead first place? or ?You took 2nd place.? While there aren't licensed cars for obvious reasons, the game is always up front in detailing when and how to unlock the next car with well-placed alerts like, ?Next car in 20 credits.? Despite all of these messages that flash on the screen, the HUD contains nothing in the corners. Your race position, powerplay meter and lap number are well situated behind your car, out of the way of the beautiful high-def graphics presented as a high rate of speed.
It wasn't shocking that name-brand cars weren't licensed for a destruction-filled game like this, but it was interesting to find out that the developer didn't go for music from known bands or bands of any sort. Instead, the game is backed up by songs with an upbeat tempo and no lyrics. It's very fitting - almost as if it's from the quality 64-bit racing days - and much preferred for an arcade racer. Taking the focus of the audio department are sounds of explosions and car alarms that go off whenever you rumble through underground parking garages and make the environment go ?Boom!?