Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Black Rock Studio
System requirements: 3.0 Ghz Pentium Processor; 2.5 GB RAM; 6.5 GB hard drive space; nVidia GeForce 7600 or ATI Radeon X1600; Windows 7/Vista SP2/XP SP3
Genre: Arcade racer
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Release date: Available now
In recent years, across genre realistic simulation has been the rage in computer games, with everyone trumpeting how you cannot differentiate what you see on the screen from reality. The racing niche has been no exception, with accurate physics of motion, tracks replicating actual courses, and branded vehicles sporting all the handling features of their real-world counterparts. However, Black Rock Studio’s recent release Split/Second breaks this trend, going back in a retro way to the pure hormonal rush of arcade racing. Does it deserve to be mentioned in the company of such old PC classics as Wipeout, Burnout, POD, and Dethkarz?
You assume the role of an amateur driver who auditions for participation in an episodic reality television show called Split/Second. You compete within an imaginary city in a series of competitions where winning involves not only outracing opponents, but also demolishing their vehicles or deforming the tracks. The central innovation is the ability to utilize two levels of Power Plays (fostered by drifting and drafting) to wreak targeted awesome havoc around you.. The seductive appeal of unlocking new tracks and cars, executing creative modes of destruction, and beating tougher competitors keeps you wanting to race some more.
There are both single-player and multiplayer racing modes available. Within single player Season mode, there are 12 episodes, and 4 races initially available in each episode. You encounter several different race types, including Air Attack (helicopter missile dodging); Detonator (solo time trial with automatically-activated Power Plays); Eliminator (last-man-standing); and Survival (barrel and truck avoidance). If you do well enough and earn enough credits, you face daunting Elite Races against the show’s top racers. A Quick Play mode is also available. Multiplayer racing allows up to 8 remote players to compete in different modes or a local enticing 2-player split-screen option.
There is a lot to praise about Split/Second. The graphics are simply the best I have ever seen in a racing game, with fantastic lighting and particle effects, dynamically changing environments, and truly gut-wrenching explosions particularly when you properly execute a level 2 power play against a group of opponents. The interface is elegant, and the controls are a snap to use. This is the fastest racer ever (other than GRIN’s Ballistics), providing a dazzling sense of incredible speed, and it runs smoothly with the highest settings on my computer. There’s also impressive directional sound and a jaunty background score.
On the negative side, minor problems are present. There could be much more diversity in the design and appearance of the track settings. The tutorial/audition is a bit misleading, as you have to work much harder at drafting to gain Power Play abilities than you do in the actual races. While all racing modes are fun, the time trials are particularly unforgiving if you want to finish first. An instant replay option seems oddly absent. While opponents’ artificial intelligence is decent and appropriately variable if you re-race a track, there is some “rubber banding” evident if you get far ahead.
Overall, I am now totally addicted to Split/Second, which I consider to be the most fun racing experience I have had in years. As an avowed arcade racing lover, on the personal computer there has not been much to savor of late, and this highly polished title takes adrenaline-pumping driving action to a whole new level. Throwing both realism and caution to the wind, the imaginative developers have given players sensational thrills and—best of all—fulfillment of our shared fantasies of what really would make the daily commute a truly enthralling, rather than utterly deadening experience.