There aren’t many live televised events that wouldn’t be improved with the addition of high explosives. Reality television is a great fit. A well-timed H-bomb on the next series of I’ma Celebrity… would vastly improve the show, while a selection of Z-List celebs attempt to chew kangaroo testicles as their teeth fall out from radiation sickness.
Disney seems to agree, and so Split/Second takes Burnout-style glossy racing, adds a reality TV-inspired format, and several kilotons of fireworks. Driving talent is still important, but if you’re lagging behind, you have the option of demolishing a building so that it drops on your opponents.
As gimmicks go, it’s a spectacular one. The vast majority of the Power Plays, as they are called, are bespoke bits of scripting and simply seeing the next, more ludicrous set-piece is plenty of motivation for progressing to the next episode in Split/Second’s campaign. Also, no matter what anyone says, dropping an airport control tower on your friends is far more satisfying than hitting them with a rocket or a red shell to slow them down a bit.
Better yet, the larger Super Power Plays not only squish other racers, but also often profoundly modify the route of the circuit, which makes revisiting locations during the season less onerous.
There areis a selection of game types introduced as you progress, which keep things interesting as well. The most exciting is the Dominator mode, in which you race against the clock through a series of scripted Power Plays. It’s like attempting to escape the inside of Michael Bay’s mind as it collapses around you – utterly unhinged. Also amusing is the Survival mode, in which you’re tasked with overtaking a series of juggernauts that are shedding exploding barrels across the track. It becomes particularly chaotic in the sudden death mode, where the merest whiff of contact with a barrel turns your car inside out.
The thing is these extra modes are necessary because while Split/Second is undoubtedly spectacular and pretty, there’s not a great deal of depth to be had from the Power Play mechanic. There’s no reason to conserve energy for the Super Power Plays unless you’re curious to see what they look like, as astandard Power Play will usually do just as good a job of eliminating a pack of racers. The route changers that aren’t linked to a Super Power Play are an even bigger waste of energy, and only make sense if you are desperate to see the other section of a circuit.
Even more troubling is the fact that there’s very little timing to be mastered because the icon only appears when an opponent is in range of the Power Play. As a result, you’ll find yourself earning power without thinking too hard about itand deploying the attacks as soon as the opportunity arises. There isn’t even an option to activate defensive Power Plays, so if you’re in the lead you just have to weather the storm of the other racers’ ordnance.
Given that the game is far less tactical than it appears, it’s a good job that the core racing is satisfying. The vehicles, which range from sleek exotics through chunky muscle cars and hefty trucks, are almost all great fun to drive. The muscle cars in particular are perfect for filthy great power slides. What’s more, this is one of the few modern racers that handles well on the keyboard; you could complete the game without ever reaching for an analogue controller.
Split/Second is a noisy, polished and suitably spectacular racer. While the Power Plays themselves are enormously pleasing to execute, as a mechanic it doesn’t work as brilliantly as other weapon-based racers’. In spite of this, the game gives you plenty to enjoy on asuperficial level, and those moments where you narrowly avoid a tumbling building or helicopter attack are worth the price of admission alone.