Gaming Flashback: Split/Second
In the era of giant AAA blockbuster releases, its easy to forget that the new generation of consoles have literally seen entire genres of video games go the way of the dodo. Think back to the last arcade style racer that has seen the light of day in a disk release on a console and you may draw a blank.
It's a genre that is close to my heart and I'm sad that I haven't had a chance to enjoy a new Burnout release. However, in the absence of a new game, theres one release I still find myself coming back to. The last great arcade racer, Disney Interactive and Black Rock Studio's last generation sleeper; Split/Second.
Split/Second is without a doubt the best racing game you've never played. In the game, players take part in a fictional reality show, the subject of which involves fast cars, money and destruction. While an awesome concept, the game never really capitalizes on it, merly existing as a loose framing devise. This will be the only negative aspect of the game.
Mechanically, Split/Second is unlike any racer I've ever played. Like Burnout, driving recklessly will award a player with with boost. Drifting, achieving significant air time, and drafting all award boost. This being a reality show though, the course is closed off, meaning there is no traffic to contend with. However, there is also another significant difference in gameplay.
Driving recklessly also awards a player segments of a “power play” meter. Scattered around each course are certain areas where a player can use their built up eter to trigger a power play. These are triggered events that range from having a hovering helicopter dropping an explosive barrel onto the course, to a full size freight train derail, scattering cement pipes and shipping cars across an open area of the course, altering what was once a pretty wide open area to drift.
Altering a track is a key feature of Split/Second's gameplay and one that really didn't get the attention that it deserved. Track changes typically occur in spectacular fashion, making for memorable races, regardless of how many times they get triggered.
A particular favorite of mine takes place in an airport terminal. After triggering an explosion that takes down a smoke stack, an entire half of the track is inaccessible. During the second or third lap, you can alter the track a second time, by triggering the downing of a full size airplane. It is worth mentioning that this is not the only way you can alter this particular track.
Power plays are useful for more than just altering the course though. Destroying your opponent is the meat of any good arcade racer and Split/Second keeps in line. Ramming your opening into a wall or striking them with a Power Play will likely take them out and award you some boost for your trouble.
In the unlikely event that you tire of destroying a radio tower or ramming a dump truck suspended in midair through a highway overpass, Split/Second contains several other modes and challenges to keep you busy. Two modes stand out in particular as great compliments to the stellar racing modes.
An elimination mode in which a full compliment of racers compete on a track, with the racer in last place being eliminated after a certain time. A personal favorite is Survival, a bit of a twist on the speed as a weapon mechanic where methodical driving and disciplined acceleration are the keys to victory. As you race around a track, a big rig drives in front of you, spilling its payload of explosive barrels across the track. You must weave in an out of the perils, all while attempting to overtake the semi while dummy cars attempt to impede your progress. Down the road awaits another semi trailer. It's not only a test of ability, its the best kind of test of patience.
For a game of its age, the sensory experience is honestly on par with what you would see on a modern console. Explosions pop with a certain visual flair and Michael Bay level of accompanying sound. Cars shimmer as they pass under the street lamps and across the ruins of the city. Fires burn across town as you speed past. Its not Forza, but there is still a feeling of shock as you see how good the game looks considering it's age.
At the forefront of the package is the soundtrack. While it would never win a Grammy, the Split/Second soundtrack fits the theme and content of the game perfectly. Modern racing games are polluted with the same junk that pollutes Top 40 radio stations across the nation. Split/Second thankfully took the alternate route of creating a, at times cheesy but memorable soundtrack that you will likely find yourself playing certain races just to race to the backdrop of the main theme.
Unfortunately due to age and a lack of good advertising, an online community never really caught on for this particular title. However, running through the season mode will prove to be quite a challenge, even for seasoned veterans of the genre. The AI is simply ruthless and although they don't tend to trigger the bigger power plays quite as often a human might, but their racing skill will keep you on your toes without seeming like cheating. This is a fine line that games very often cross that Split/Second manages to stay on the right side of.
I want a new Burnout game. I want a new Split/Second. Arcade racing has been a staple for any console gamer since the days of Rad Racer on the NES. I guarantee that after playing trough the first episode of Split/Second, memories of your first million dollar crash on Burnout Revenge or your first time on the stunt track of Rush will flood your mind. You just may find yourself wanting more of a genre that has been forgotten to time. Until then, dust off the PS3 and give Split/Second a try. If you need any more of a testimonial to the power of this game, consider the following; with the exception of iOs, I have purchased this game on every console that it has been released on. Its been beaten each time, and each experience is just as exciting as the last.