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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Split Second (Playstation 3)

Split Second is an action racer from Disney Interactive that brings an explosive aspect to its adrenaline fueled contests. Instead of merely trying to knock opponents off the track, you knock the track itself onto your opponents. This is done by triggering Power Plays that cause massive explosions, hurling debris onto the track. There's tons of vehicles to choose from, and these offer different driving styles, but all are tuned for arcade action. Its solo game is loads of fun, but the online mode is also solid with support for up to 8 players. Add in tons of unlockable content and bonus features and you get a solid game that brings ferocious arcade racing action.

Set in a futuristic reality-racing television program, Split Second mixes Hollywood style special effects and summer movie action with traditional arcade-style racing to create an exciting and addictive racing title. Split Second's basic racing mechanics should be familiar to anyone who knows the genre. The game is divided into episodes, each of which features several different events. You start the game with a few cars and can unlock additional ones depending on your performance in each race. There are several types of events in each episode which include standard races, elimination rounds, detonator matches where explosions are triggered while you try and beat the best lap and survival runs. You earn points depending on your position after each event and finishing third or better in the first few races allows you to unlock the final event, the elite race where the best of the best compete against each other. Winning the Elite race allows you to move on to the next episode in the series. Each episode also has a bonus race which you can unlock under certain conditions, such as wrecking a number of opponents or triggering power plays. This consistent unlock structure is nicely done and, despite being a little reminiscent of Burnout is an effect way to keep you playing through the single player campaign.

The controls and interface in Split Second are fairly easy to understand and master. As in most racing games you basically push down on the accelerator and race through a series of dense urban environments filled with obstacles, short-cuts and ramps. Sharp turns and cut-off abound and the other racers are quite aggressive. The twist comes when you see objects exploding, taking out sections of track and any racers who are in their path. These explosions are triggered by Power Plays which the player earns by drifting or drafting which fills up their power-meter. Once one section of the power-meter is filled up, they can then unleash these attacks. However, they can only be triggered when an icon appears above rival racers, which makes timing critical. You also have to watch out for them yourself, since there is a possibility that you can wreck your own vehicle. Other drivers are also aware that this can happen and can dodge out of the destructive path of the explosions if they have fast reflexes. The power play explosions are quite impressive in their own right and each one has a different level of effect. Smaller explosions that are triggered far in advance of the track are easier for opponents to avoid, while larger ones almost guarantee an opponent or two will be reduced to scrap metal. The size of each explosion range in scale from exploding trucks, to cranes falling over to cruise ships rolling over the course and even entire airplanes falling right on your vehicle.

The game's massive level-sized explosions can be quite visually impressive but they also have a significant effect on the race itself. After they've done their damage, these explosions alter the track layout in future laps and create new obstacles to avoid. It can be as small as avoiding a burning wreck or as large as to create a completely different path or section of track. This makes them a more dynamic aspect of the game the reduces the chances of each course becoming predictable. This is especially true in the Elite Race mode where you battle against the best of the best and they won't leave much on the table. Split Second's unique remote trigger system definitely differentiates it from most other racing games, since you need to time the explosions just right in order to knock out your opponents. This makes it a bit more strategic than most other combat racers. Unlocking additional vehicles and courses comes at a fairly steady pace, which means you won't spend hours and hours on the same courses. You can say that the gameplay is a bit simplified as far as opponent AI goes, since they are usually grouped close together, making big leads hard to maintain. The good news is that races are usually winnable even far back in the pack on the final lap, which keeps the excitement and unpredictability levels fairly high for most racing games.

For a game that so clearly emulates the look and feel of a Hollywood blockbuster, Split Second does a fairly decent job of looking like a big-budget movie. While the cars in the game are based on fictional manufacturers and makes (for obvious reasons) the models look fairly realistic with beveled edges, shiny paint reflections and a decent sense of gravity to each one. As expected the game moves at a very fast rate with a consistent feel and sped that makes for some exciting racing. This is particularly true if you choose to race in the first-person perspective. However, it's the courses themselves that really stand out. The city itself (a nameless Hollywood backlot built specifically to be destroyed) is nicely detailed with huge rendered objects and massive devices that are set to detonate on command. When they do, the game's engine comes to life in huge fiery explosions, massive carnage and vehicular destruction that is quite impressive to watch. You can definitely tell that a lot of attention went into these massive crashes and this polish and style makes Split Second viscerally exciting and fun to watch. The music is bombastic and heavy with a very Hollywood feel as well, which all comes together to make you feel like you're participating in a cinematic thrill ride, which makes Split Second a fun arcade racer that entertains players who enjoy these types of games.

While the cinematic flair and adrenaline fueled racing is well-designed, there are a few drawbacks to this approach. The vehicles can't really be customized aside from paint color and while there is some variety to their design, their controls are very similar except for acceleration speeds. Split Second also has a few problems in its course design, some of the tracks are nicely designed for this type of play while others have long sections that seem to be devoid of the power-play triggers. Speaking of which, the fact that you can only increase your power play meter by drifting or drafting behind other vehicles seems a little constraining after awhile, and we wish there was another method or two that would allow for faster fill-ups. This makes it sometimes feel frustratingly constrained. However, taken in context, these are relatively minor complaints about an otherwise superb title - there's a lot more to recommend Split Second than there is to dissuade players. Disney and Black Rock Studios may not be at the top of the racing genre yet, but Split Second is an excellent first release from the developer and studio that most players who enjoy arcade style racing will definitely want to experience.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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