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Split/Second

 

Split/Second

ESRB: Everyone 10+
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Racing
 
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Developer: Black Rock Studios
Publisher: Disney Interactive

Game Website: www.splitsecondvideogame.com

Features

Players: 1-2
HDTV: 720p/1080i/1080p
Online Multiplayer: 2-8 Players
Game-Content Download
Leaderboards

It seems that the racing genre is becoming quite full on this current generation of consoles. From arcade racers to full driving-sims, there is a lot of choice for the racing game fan. I find that I prefer all types of racing games, from the quick and quirky arcade ones to the realistic and knowledge testing simulation ones. Disney Interactive Studios is set to release (at the time of writing this review) their newest racing game onto the masses. Split/Second is an arcade style racing game with a few twists up its sleeve. I had the chance to play the final Xbox 360 retail version over the past few days and I have to say that I am very impressed with the final product.

Graphics

Visually speaking, Split/Second is a fabulous looking racing game. Black Rock Studios has locked down a very solid frame rate well allowing so much to occur on screen. It is really quite amazing how so many explosions and the resulting carnage occurs while allowing the race to continue with out so much a slight hiccup in the framerate. Of course lighting is also important and there is ample use of such. From going under an airplane wing, taking a tunnel shortcut through a mountain, or speeding through a ferry boat that is part of the course, you'll find each environment has its own specific lighting which adds to the atmosphere and look. All in all there is nothing to complain about here, and anyone who plays this game will find themselves really enjoying all the 'eye-candy' that Split/Second has to offer.

Sound

Split/Second's sound helps makes this game a great experience. The sound effects employed during each race are almost over the top, but the impact they have as you slide around corners, driver through explosions, or speed under wrecked cars that are in the air, is amazing. I would venture to say that the sound effects really do make the feeling of being in the middle of all the action all that more plausible. If you get an opportunity, I highly recommend playing this game on a full surround sound system too. I had the chance to play it in my home office's media room and being able to play on a full Dolby Digital setup with included subwoofer made the game sound even that much better. If there is one weakness in the audio it would be that the music can become a little monotonous given that it all sounds alike in its effort to match the overall sound effects. It is not particularly a bad thing, just something you may notice after extended play.

Gameplay

Split/Second actually has a premise behind its' racing madness. The game has you participating in a reality television show. You compete against other drivers during a 12 episode season which will determine who is the champion of the Split/Second. Although the game's premise is not told in the form of a story, you will get some neat presentation aspects that make you feel like you are indeed watching a TV series. From the "Next time on Split/Second..." announcement from the commentator to the short trailers that give hints on what tests or surprises are upcoming in next weeks episode, it is pretty neat indeed and gives the game a bit more originality then just racing through various tracks and challenges.

You are probably thinking that this is just another racing game that adds to the burgeoning market of such. Well hold on there fellow readers, Split/Second brings something new to the plate in the form of Power Plays. These are events that you trigger in an effort to wreck your opponents. They can be as simple as activating equipment on the track to igniting explosions that cause all sorts of debris to be strewn about. As you race against your opponents you will drift around corners, draft behind other racers, and fly through the air off of various jumps. As you do so you will fill up your Power Play meter which, when used, can wreck your opponents. A small icon will show up on over your opponents and once this icon is displayed you have the choice of activating your Power Play or not. Power Plays can also take out more then one car at a time too.

There are two different types of Power Plays, level one and level two. Level one Power Plays are events that are small on scale, such as causing an explosion that throws a bus across the track or brings down half of a pedestrian bridge crossing that goes overtop of the track. You'll need to time the level one Power Plays in order to stand a chance to take out your enemy effectively. Using a level one Power Play, which is identifiable from the blue icon over the other cars, uses only one bar of your Power Play meter. For a more impressive display of power, you can use a level two Power Play. These can be considered game changers given that they are so powerful they can alter the track you are racing on. They are identified as a red icon over the other racers. One such Power Play has you setting of a huge explosion on a shipyard where a freighter that is sitting in dry dock slides down the track and into the water, all the while an excavator like machine's equipment hits the track and moves about wildly. It's pretty crazy. Setting of a level two power play can take actually take out all other racers if they are bunched tightly together and you time it right.

Power Plays actually offer up a level of strategy when racing. You can effectively try to keep using a level one Power Play, or you can keep your meter full and use your Power Plays when needed. You may choose to keep them until you fall behind a certain section or certain opponent, or you may choose to just use them as often as you can just to try to take the other racers out. With this in mind, you should also be aware that you can only use Power Plays when behind other cars, as when you are in first place, with no one else in front of you, you cannot affect the cars behind you.

Also adding to the whole strategy mix of your power meter is that if it is completely full, and you come across certain sections of a track, you can activate a Route Changer which sets off a series of events that literally change the way you will race through the level (e.g. explosions leading into falling sections of track leading into new areas being exposed and a new direction to go). Not only does this change the physical layout of the track which can open up new Power Plays, Route Changers can also take out other racers when activated.

I found that I truly enjoyed the Power Play aspect of the game. Not only was the need to see stuff blow up satisfied, but it also gives a whole new aspect to the racing genre, given that the results of a race can change with the simple press of a button. Watching an opponent get obliterated by a level one Power Up and passing them by was great, but watching a whole track take on a new look and feel due to a level two Power Play or Route Changer was even more gratifying and really showed how original this game is with these aspects implemented.

In terms of what the game offers, Split/Second has both single player and multiplayer flavours.

During the single player experience you will find yourself in the Season or Quick Play modes the most. The Season Mode is broken down into 12 episodes, with six events in each. As you progress you will find new race types within some of the later episodes as you get deeper into the season. The six race types are Race, Eliminator, Detonator, Air Attack, Revenge Air Attack and Survival. Race is self explanatory as you race against seven other cars and see who places first. Eliminator is a last man standing race where the last place position is 'eliminated' every 20 seconds until only one racer remains. Detonator has you racing on track alone in a one lap time trial mode; however the trick here is that all of the Power Plays, big or small, will automatically activate and you have to beat the best time to win. Air Attack has you dodging missiles that are fired from a helicopter. You build a combo meter as you successfully dodge multiple waves. You must hit a specific score to win. Revenge Air Attack is similar to Air Attack the main difference being that you will be able to deflect the missiles back at the helicopter. You need to take the helicopter down the quickest to win. Both Air Attack modes only have three lives to succeed. Finally, Survival has you racing on the track avoiding barrels while trying to pass as many trucks as possible. Blue barrels slow you down while red barrels will destroy you. You have three lives in this race type as well.

There are only four races initially open in each episode. Each race can be any of the race types mentioned. Once you complete the opened races and win enough credits, you finish each episode with an Elite Race. This race pits you against opponents that are supposed to be the television show's best racers. It can be a harrowing and white knuckle experience so be prepared to bring your 'A-Game' to the table here.

As you play through the Season Mode, you will open up the races for quick play, which allows you to race any track and any mode you've opened, outside the season you are playing. Here you can practice your skills and get to know each track's pitfalls, shortcuts, and layout. The Season Mode is also important in that you earn credits for your finishes, and the more credits you earn the more cars you open up. These cars are playable online, and the only way to get them for use online is to open them up offline in the Season Mode.

All in all I enjoyed the single player modes as it helped me hone my racing skills in such that I found specific cars that I enjoyed and I became accustomed to the nuances of many of the tracks. It should be noted that multiple tracks exist in specific areas; it is just that each one will take you on a different route. I didn't mind this as I was able to take my knowledge of particular areas of a track and apply it to a new track that may have one or more the areas I had raced on before. Besides, each track is gorgeous looking, so I didn't complain too much with what I was seeing.

There are only two areas that I think I should comment on that has a negative effect on the game. The first is very glaring, and it is something that is prevalent in a lot of arcade racers, rubber band AI. There were quite a few occasions where I found myself in the lead after destroying many of the competitors in front of me. Add to this that I was having a great race too finding perfect lines and taking some great corners. Well to my surprise, when looking behind me, I would see many of the cars I destroyed barrelling down on me while they tried to wreck me with their own use of Power Plays. There were even a few occasions that they were able to use a well timed Power Play or shortcut that seemed to come out of the blue to win. Now I don't mind losing, but when I am running an almost flawless race, and you can see from the on-screen updates the time between me and the next car behind dwindling, well something is up; and given the aforementioned close finishes in the manner I experienced, you can't help but notice this suspicious AI.

The other issue worth commenting on, but a lot less of an issue, is that there can be so much going on screen at once you may get a bit confused or lost on where to go. There are some arrow indicators to show specific corners or routes, but when the explosions get going, and large objects start to collapse or move, it can be a little disorientating at times. I found a few instances like this where I just didn't know where to go. It isn't a common problem though, but it is something that will happen and merit noting.

Of course Split/Second also offers up some multiplayer play as well. This can be done split screen or over Xbox LIVE. In terms of split screen, you have the option of splitting the screen vertically or horizontally, which is a nice option. Of course you are limited to you and on other racer only. Online however is a whole other story. Split/Second supports up to eight players over Xbox LIVE. You can play in private or public matches, or you can play in a party. Navigating the online multiplayer menu is simple, and you'll find a game as long as it is available. I had the chance to play this game prior to its retail release, and late at night, so there were not a lot of people online. Most of my racing was against people from the UK, Germany and Australia as not a lot of people in North America have the game yet. Much to my delight, the game did not show any lag at all, even when racing against these individuals from all over the globe. The races were smooth, pretty much as if I was racing against the computer AI. It was exceptionally crazy too. Many of the players I raced against had better cars and had quite the knowledge of the tracks. I was able to handle my self now and then, but there were a few races where I was totally dominated. Overall Split/Second is great online as anything can happen during a race. I think that most of those that go online should have a ton of fun with it.


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