You know what’s annoying? When after losing a race several times, you finally speed into third place and think you’ll be able to move on, but then one of your computer-controlled opponents makes the road ahead of you explode, causing you to vault end over end into the air before being reset onto the track in last place, which is where you finish. This sort of thing happens often in Split/Second, a racing game that looks great on paper but is stunted by shoddy implementation.
But let’s back up. The premise of Split/Second is great. Take a rubber-burning racer similar to Burnout, and give each track several triggerable explosions that wreck all cars in the vicinity and even alter the course. So not only can you run your opponents off the track, but you can blow them to kingdom come, too.
If you see the debris, it’s already too late.
The environmental explosions are called Power Plays, and to set them off you need to power up a meter by executing jumps, drifts, and drafts. Then, when you’re nearing a part of the track that can be detonated and your opponents are within range, a button appears on your screen. Tap it in time, and you unleash the destruction, taking out any cars in range of the debris. Unfortunately, because the button only appears when you’re approaching the spot of the explosion, you can and often will become a victim of your own chaos.
Nine tracks are included, and they’re mostly quite well-made, with lots of bends, inclines, and alternate routes scattered throughout. We particularly enjoyed that some of the explosions, when triggered, change the shape of the track, opening up new areas to travel through. Our one qualm with the track design is that many of them include cheap-feeling corners and obstacles that are tough to navigate around even when you know they’re coming.
For each track, three race types are available. The first is Detonator, in which all of the Power Plays blow up when you drive by, letting you get a feel for where they are on the track. Next is Elimination, where a countdown timer kills off whoever is in last place periodically throughout the run. Finally there’s Race, where you go three laps against five other cars, building up Power Plays to use on your opponents.
And the walls came crumbling down.
But now onto the negatives. As everyone knows, crashing in a racing game can cause frustration, and in Split/Second you’ll crash a lot, often through no fault of your own. If it’s not unavoidable explosions that wreck you, it’s the aforementioned sharp corners and carefully-placed obstacles in the tracks that are difficult to navigate around without riding the brake. Worsening matters is the hit detection, which is wide enough to total your car if even just the edge of your bumper nicks a corner. The computer-controlled cars, on the other hand, are able to round tight turns just fine.
The cars aren’t the only thing that crash in this game: the game itself crashed on us at least half a dozen times as we played. Online multiplayer is equally buggy. Almost every time we tried to join a match, the game timed out before we could connect. We tried hosting our own online games but no one ever joined. The few times we were able to connect with others it was always just us and one other car on the track, making for some pretty boring races.
With its clever level design, high speed gameplay, and awesome explosion gimmick, Split/Second shows a ton of potential. But unless it’s updated to become less buggy and punishing, we recommend you sit this race out.