Split/Second: A Review

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I hate racing games. Well, that’s not really true. I hate cars. They kill people, they destroy the planet, they make lots of noise, etc. etc.

So I hate those ultra-realistic racing games that reproduce real cars in such minute detail that you feel like you’re driving your VW Passat to the center of town to pick up the kids after soccer practice.

But I do like the racing games that hate cars. Like Burnout — the ones that encourage you to wreck and destroy. Split/Second is another such game.

In Split/Second you’re a contestant in a reality show where you race shiny cars through towering cityscapes. The twist is that while you race, if you do “extreme” things like jumping and drifting (when did drifting become the ultimate goal of all racing games? oh right, that’s when) you store up points or energy or something, which you can spend to do “power plays.” A power play means you remotely set off an explosion or other catastrophic event that can wipe out a competitor.

It’s fun. The cityscapes are unbelievably detailed and vivid. The cars are shiny and have exciting names like Iridium. The power play asplosions are pretty epic — like this one time a huge cargo plane comes swooping down out of the sky and skids down the runway Con Air style, all wiping out dudes with its wings. That pleases me.

If I have a problem with Split/Second it’s that it feels weirdly thin. For all the detail, there’s no world-building. There’s minimal (no?) vehicle damage, so the cars feel kind of fake. Or take the whole reality show premise. I was expecting some wicked satire along the lines of Manhunt or the great Smash TV, whereby our collective voyeuristic love of watching other humans suffer is all cruelly exposed and shit. But they play it completely straight. It’s like they actually think this would be a good idea for a TV show.

And it’s really hard to wreck the other cars — seriously you bang them and it’s like they’re made of neutron star matter. You just bounce right off them. And there’s a lot of rubber-banding, so it’s kind of pointless to even spend your power play credits early on, because any lead they give you is going to automatically get eaten up again.

But bottom line, is it possible to say that a game where you can burst out of a pack of weaving sports cars, dodge past an exquisitely rendered burning bus carcass that’s rolling across the road, smash through a chain-link fence and keep on driving, is bad? No. In fact it’s pretty good.

Official Techland Score: 7.4999999999