Unlike many modern day driving games, Split/Second is as subtle as a lightning bolt tearing through a fireworks factory. That’s not to say that careful maneuvering, perfect powerslides, and skillful overtakes aren’t all integral parts of Black Rock Studios latest arcade racer, but it is hard to concentrate on any of these tactics when a six-story building is crumbling onto the track in front of you and an ocean liner is careening wildly into your path.
Like the Burnout series before it, Split/Second is an arcade racer that feeds on adrenaline, as each explosively-crafted stunt course is layered with enough destructive dangers to keep any player with a pulse firmly perched at the edge of their seat. The racing is fast and feverish, with enemy cars constantly nipping at your tailpipe as the ever-evolving tracks present their own unique challenges. Drifting, drafting behind other vehicles, and catching air will allow you to drop a piece of the environment onto an opponent. Explosive barrels, toppling towers, collapsing missile silos, and even a bursting dam are just a few of the dozens of obstacles that can be triggered at will, though players must time these attacks right if they don’t want to crush themselves alongside their opponents.
The car handling is solid, as hairpin turns and near-miss passes feel smooth and manageable, while the aggressive AI keeps every race frustratingly close. Pitch-perfect driving and clever use of the environmental hazards will only get you so far, as enemy racers will always seem to catch up to you moments before the finish line is crossed. This constant jockeying for first ensures that there’s never a dull moment in the twelve-tier campaign mode, though it also leads to mounds of frustration and some aggravating photo-finish losses. Thankfully, you don’t need to place first in every race to advance through the game, though achievement hunters are in for an uphill struggle with this one.
Split/Second includes a handful of exciting race modes, all of which take advantage of the game’s glorified use of destruction. Aside from standard racing and elimination contests, a unique ‘survival’ mode has players dodging gasoline-filled barrels that drop out of the back of a rampaging truck. Another mode has players evading missiles that are landing on the road in front of them, stringing up point combos as each attack wave is passed without incident. Most of these modes can also be played online with up to eight players, offering a welcome change from the standard race types found in most of the competition. While all of the included modes are a blast, I do wish there were a few more unique options. New race types stop being introduced half-way through the campaign, making the back half a bit less exciting than the initial rush.
Visually, Split/Second’s tinted color palette and filthy environments perfectly capture the look of a summer action flick. The destruction is impressive, as massive skyscrapers crumble into heaps of dirt and ash in awesome display of current-gen carnage. Even more impressive are the track-rearranging shortcuts, which will create an entirely new path in the wake of the catastrophic wreckage. The intense orchestrated soundtrack is a bit less effective. While the tunes would feel fitting for a B-grade action series, a few more upbeat aural choices would have worked better.
One of the things that I took away from Split/Second was a new appreciation for load times, as they offered a welcome reprieve from the pulse-pounding insanity that was constantly happening otherwise. While it may be plagued by some aggravating A.I. issues and be hindered by a lack of depth, arcade racing fans will adore the delightful display of delicious destruction that impacts every last moment of exhilarating play. Sure, Split/Second might be too crazy for some people to handle, but if driving across a collapsing bridge while the sky rains fire sounds like an appealing night in, your needs will be met and exceeded as soon as the start button has been pressed.