Split/Second (PlayStation 3) review
" I sat down to write this review, and as with everything else, started thinking of ideas for an introduction. I came up with a few good lines here and there, strung them all together, backspaced it all, then tried again. I rinsed and repeated a few times more than Rapunzel if she had a cleanliness compulsive disorder. I took a step back and tried to figure out why I was unhappy with all of my attempts. After a few minutes stewing upon the quandary I came upon it… "
I sat down to write this review, and as with everything else, started thinking of ideas for an introduction. I came up with a few good lines here and there, strung them all together, backspaced it all, then tried again. I rinsed and repeated a few times more than Rapunzel if she had a cleanliness compulsive disorder. I took a step back and tried to figure out why I was unhappy with all of my attempts. After a few minutes stewing upon the quandary I came upon it…
…it sounded like an advertisement. I was almost mindlessly spewing out taglines in favor of the game unknowingly, but with a purpose towards descriptiveness, not commendation. I had just assumed that I was having some writers’ block. After another moment of letting the light bulb flicker before shining I came to realize that maybe the game’s own description was really it’s selling point. Then I came upon the idea that maybe the game was good enough that it was making me dumb.
I scrapped all of it and realized that all the confusion about the game’s effects on the audience was purely in the receptivity of the audience. The Split/Second is so unapologetic and blunt in what it is that it’s almost subliminal to the player like me who’ve delved entirely too far into the Metal Gear Solid saga. Players who pick up Split/Second and demand a plot, character development, or any sort of customization system are to be disappointed, but it’s only their fault.
Yes, that’s right, it’s the gamers’ fault. (On second thought, maybe this game DID make me dumb.)
The key to really seeing Split/Second for what it is and being able to enjoy it is to understand what you’re looking for. Go to youtube and look up the game’s trailer. Now don’t expect anything else. Still compelled? Then you’re ready.
Let’s get the basics out of the way. Split/Second is an Action Racing game built around the premise of putting the main driver (you) behind the wheel of various cars as you pilot them around a series of tracks and blunders. Everything is recorded and put out to the public to be viewed on overpriced pay-per-view TV, undoubtedly stealing viewers from the orders on the UFC 2010 broadcasts (I’m sure there’s a few chapped asses at THQ over Codemasters’ recent move into the make-believe TV-by-order market).
Anyway, the whole plot is really just a necessary measure to make some sense as to why you’re traveling the world, all the while dodging airplanes and heat-seeking missiles. Although it’s believable, and most are for racing games, it still feels a bit plastered on simply for the sake of creating an idea of continuity between races, and don’t get me wrong… it is.
But, you didn’t come here for a storyline, did you? You came here for the action! In that case, my friend, you’re in luck. Split/Second is a one trick pony, but that one trick is a behemoth of a trick. Let’s start off by going over the basics of what every racing games needs to cover, shall we?
The Cars. All fictional, of course. Most automobile industries don’t approve of seeing their cars damaged in video games. Talk to the folks who do Gran Turismo and Forza, and ask them how much hair they’ve torn out over the issue. So it was understandable that Ford or Lamborghini didn’t want their cars being crashed, much less having cargo ships pancake over them.
They do add a nice touch by having a set amount of, “Manufacturers,” that stay constant throughout the game. I felt a theme towards each brand and how they make their cars. After a while I began to notice slight characteristics that one brand may have had, and another didn’t. For example, the Corbetti’s felt like your super cars and speed demons. They were nimble and fast, but were hard to keep straight after explosions, whereas the Rybacks felt much sturdier and more controllable through the drifts.
The stats on the cars almost became null after a point due to the game’s rubber-banding feature (Which is completely null and void once you take the game online, however). They competition levels up with you, so noticeable effects on performance certainly don’t come in observations of relativity towards your opponents. And really, they don’t make much of a difference in terms of performance… at all. I’ve won 5th and 6th tier races with my starting Corbetti. Likewise online with my beginner car against those with juggernaut stats. That game is certainly not made to be a sim, so don’t fret wasting time over the perfect car choice, because the secret to winning is all in driving style.
Now, on to the gameplay. Any avid fan of Project Gotham Racing will feel right at home here. The game feels very fast, especially when going through areas with a lot of action. I’m impressed with Black Rock Studio’s programming competence to have explosions going on across an entirely rendered track with 8 racers without having any noticeable frame rate drops… and I play in 720p! Kudos for that.
Back to what I was saying. The game doesn’t rely on any weird screen blurs or speed streaks as older Need for Speed titles, or Midnight Club. The game simply is fast. It doesn’t matter what you’re speedometer says, you’ll swear that you’re cruising a breezy 200mph through the winding mountain roads. Despite it’s maniac velocities, the game manages to still feel very controlled. There were few to no moments where I felt like the track, or my car, was just too much for what I could do at the time.
Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not a good or bad thing. If you’re in a simulation racer with a Le Mans beast and a technical track, you SHOULDN’T be able to handle it. What I’m saying is that this game is very accessible to any gamer. It’s pretty much the epitome of a pick-up-and-play game.
The physics of drifts get a bit weird after drifting for long times, but the game physics are set up to facilitate extended drifts, so unrealistic tire spins and sudden accelerations at the end of them are to be expected, but that is by no means an excuse to let them be sloppy.
Okay, so onto the meat and potatoes of Split/Second. The obstacles and explosions are events cued by the drivers on the track called, “power plays.” Drivers build up their energy by drafting, drifting, and all sorts of other fanciful driving techniques (Did I already say PGR? Yes? Sorry.) Once you build up enough you can trigger the power play at your will by button command. Power plays rely entirely on your track position as the play triggered is whichever is nearest the front of you on the track. So picking and choosing the most devastating ones are important, as well as timing them out to destroy your opponents without ruining your lap in the process.
If you gain enough energy you can trigger devastating attacks that can clear entire fields of racers. Otherwise you can also trigger, “Route Changers,” which are cleverly named because they do just that. Bridges fall towards other landing strips, or ships turn to jumps to take you to other docks. Plain and simple, no lap will ever be the same as the last. It’s a constantly evolving track that makes you play the field, and not the clock.
All these together cause one small problem. You sometimes give up track position, or drop back on purpose just so you can gain the energy needed to trigger such events for the points, or for the win. When you’re in first place, what’s the point of blowing up things in front of you? If you’re a good enough racer to dodge everything thrown at you, then a fast car and foresight are all you need. Most of us need the falling cranes and helicopter bombs to thin things out and give us some breathing room to make our last minute dashes, though. As said before, you’re not fighting the clock, you’re fighting each other. That is the point of the game, part of it’s beauty, but also some of it’s drawback.
Scattered throughout the campaign are refreshing mini modes to break up the monotony of what would be just race after race. I enjoyed dodging the rolling barrels of explosives from runaway trucks through the sewers, and weaving through intricately aimed missiles from the menacing attack choppers. The game definitely has enough game modes for everyone to find a favorite to look forward to or find their niche. The great thing about them is that they’re all available online as well.
The big power plays are gargantuan. The first time you duck and weave a 747 on a runway you previous thought was a racetrack, you’ll know that the $63.29 (That’s the cost of the game brand new at 5.5% tax. Go Wisconsin!) you paid was completely worth the experience. Your faith is to be further affirmed as you squeak past collapsing ships and crumbling dams. The game’s most devastating power plays are truly epic in the original meaning of the word, not how skater bros use it nowadays.
A quick gripe would be that there is absolutely no customization to the cars beyond your choice of color and the stickers that get placed on your car as you achieve trophies. Sure, it’s cool to see how good a racer is by how many stickers they have, but couldn’t I at least place my stickers? I don’t expect a Forza style creation system, but something beyond, “Red with White stripe or Blue with White stripe,” would have been nice. It isn’t meant to be a huge feature given the premise of the game, but with looking at the whole package and what it could have been, the exclusion of a small detail like that actually detracts from the experience as you’re left telling your buddy, “You know, this would have been great if…”
Split/Second knows exactly what it is. Because of this, it cuts all the fluff and uses it’s pointed and directive attitude to kick you in the balls with the over-the-top feeling that it so proudly flaunts. The game’s purely a fun racer to play multiplayer or alone through the campaign. The lack of customization and repetitiveness through the tracks detracts from the depth of the offline mode, but not the experience.
Maybe working at Gamestop and being around to so many titles that are not quite sure what they’re supposed to be. Uncharted obviously had parts stolen from other titles, but it was done tastefully. Sometimes you get the hiccups like Alpha Protocol that give video games a bad name as a venue for media art. Nonetheless, being overexposed to games who’re trying to capitalize of the success of other titles is probably the setup for what it took for me to love this game. The simplicity, and the outright fun…
…or maybe I’m just horrible at reviews.
Community review by CompanionCube (June 12, 2010)
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