Review

Split/Second Review (PS3)

Reality television has gone stale. Big Brother is droning to an end, jungles across the world have been touched by so many celebrities that hacking them down no longer seems a crime, even Simon Cowell has pulled the plug on his American Idol tenure. We need something different, something exhilarating, a world away from sobbing back stories and sour-faced banshees trying to convince us their rendition of 'RESPECT' was note perfect. Split/Second: Velocity is a slap to SuBo's natural gurn, opting to throw subtlety out the window in favour of high-octane thrills. In fact, it brings a whole new definition to 'bringing down the house.'

Expect gorgeous visuals entwined with momentous carnage

A single lap on Split/Second's tightly-constructed tracks sets the tone. Within minutes of play you'll be eating through asphalt like a tarmac-hungry Pacman, opting to destroy competitors instead of nagging ghosts. Presented in the style of a Hollywood-produced TV show, Split/Second's deep-voiced narrator bellows about the possibilities of the next episode with a gruffness that would be suited to a superhero movie.

It doesn't take a genius to work out Split/Second employs a strategic element that most racers overlook. By successfully drifting round corners and drafting in the line of opponents who lay ahead, your power meter will build up. Once enough has been filled the ability to trigger powerplays on track becomes available. This may blow up a petrol station, kick a dormant crane into life or even make a helicopter despatch their explosive payload in your opponents way. Although these make the racing more difficult, there's always a chance to escape. Highlighting where the title for the game stems from, often a quick dash to a particular side or slamming down the breaks will allow you to surpass the trouble with a graze and not a full wreck.

With that said, there are certain powerplays that change quite literally change the entire race. Fully building up your meter and opting to use it at certain points will initiate a major event and will alter the course. The most impressive of these is in the first level when a plane is sent crashing towards players who're speeding across a runway. The sound dims, and the burning disaster sweeps towards your route in a truly memorable scene. Ships may explode when you're inside, trains may derail and bridges may fall; whatever happens, it's catastrophic. Sitting mid-way in the pack, ramping up your power meter and waiting for the leaders to enter the danger zone is often a rewarding tactic. Not only will you avoid any potential danger, you'll be able to revel in the crushing of your rivals. Many players will decide this tactic isn't for them, and may use their powerplays with greater haste and less strength, as triggering the most damaging events is only helpful when you've got major catching up to do.
 
Obstacles can come from any direction at any time

As much as you can feel like a god on track, there's the opportunity to feel completely inadequate too. The moment you utilise a powerplay and then end up getting wrecked by it will make you turn round to make sure nobody else was watching. With such superb sound design, every close-scrape, falling communication tower and eight car pile-up can be felt in full force. Even speeding through tunnels is thrilling as Black Rock's audio prowess could be ripped from the most dramatic car chases ever seen on film. Short cuts have been given their own tint of danger, as they must be opened by players who've got juice in their power meter. You may have a barrage of blocking pipes lifted up for a few seconds, or a bridge may be lowered into place, but trying to sneak through a short cut when someone else has opened it up in front of you is risky business. Sneak in and you'll be patting them on the back as you speed past, but mistime it and there's a good chance a warehouse door will stamp out your cheeky ploy with an embarrassing crash.

While Split/Second's season mode will ensure around ten hours of play, it wont challenge much. There's huge opportunity to earn points in races, elimination events, time trials, and even a few more interesting skill tests. Black Rock brings survival tasks into play, as you escape bouncing barrels from the back of a lorry, or challenge a helicopter to a spot of target practice. As the hovering beast above targets you with missiles, you're tasked with dodging out the way until enough of your meter has been built up. Once ready, you can deflect the incoming missiles back towards your enemy, watching as they struggled to keep the bird in the sky. As the career mode shows its best card way too early, this kind of change in pace is welcome. Aside from the aeroplane moment, there's only one powerplay that forces jaws to the floor with such vigour, which is found in the penultimate race. Many of the powerplays are superbly created and envisioned, but it's a shame that there aren't more moments that push Split/Second forward is the most thrilling racer of the year.

Taking the game online, there's plenty of players already forming team strategies to help one another out. It's not uncommon to see two players slow down so they can utilise the draft mechanic, aiming to fatally take out enemies who strive for the finish line with a well-placed powerplay. Competition is fierce online, and highlights the area of the game we'd like to see improved the most. Right now there aren't any real customisation abilities, meaning every player has a similar exterior and look. If a sequel is to appear, Black Rock should incorporate a design studio that allows the creative spark to ignite. Sure, it may eliminate the simplicity of Split/Second's jump-in-and-race formula, but longevity and allowing players their own sense of identity may be more important for the franchise as it moves forward.
 
Even a simple road can be blown apart at any time

There's no doubt about it, Split/Second is a finely balanced, visually stunning racer that loves the brown stuff hitting the fan. It's impossible to play the game without feeling cool when you evade the lure of an explosion, or wreck five opponents by dumping a boulder in their way. Finally a title has arrived that allows players to stop worrying about the complicated stats and perfect gear changes, as Black Rock just don't care for it. They want you to bounce off the walls, scream wildly as you out think your friends in split screen, and just have a damn good time playing the game they tried to deliver with Pure. Fortunately, Split/Second is the mark of a team who have finally honed their ideas into the sleeper hit of the year, although 'craziest, most bombastically thrilling hit of the year' may be more appropriate.

Top Game Moment: Launching a powerplay at precisely the right time, forcing opponents into ominous disarray.

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