Back in 2008, a remake to the cult classic black comedy Death Race 2000 arrived in theaters. The remake’s version of the Death Race took place on an island penitentiary and was broadcast via Internet streaming for anyone willing to cough up $250 to watch all three stages. While a majority of the film’s races involved mounted weapons such as machine guns, there was also a special type of weapon called "Death Heads" which triggered an environment based attack, such as spikes that impale through any car’s armor plating.
The "Death Head" best describes the concept behind Disney’s latest racer Split/Second. After the success they and developer Blackrock Studios had with the ATV racer Pure, it is time to take on the Burnout style of extreme racing, and in doing so, competing head to head against Activision’s Blur.
Split/Second is actually the name of a combat racing television show, and like many well known shows, consists of a season of twelve episodes. Each episode features six stages. There are standard races of two or three laps and elimination races where the last place runner is killed off after the time runs out, as well as hot laps called "Detonators."
Detonator is an appropriate name because it centers around the core gameplay of Split/Second: the Powerplays. By performing drifts, drafting other racers, gaining air by jumps, and other special methods, power is built up and when a meter section is built up, staged environment attacks called Powerplays can be triggered on targeted opponents.
Two levels of attacks are available. The lower level requires only one meter section to be filled and are represented by a blue icon, while the more intense red power play attacks require the meter to be completely filled. In addition, a filled meter can even cause a powerplay destructive enough to change the entire track, opening alternate routes. Nothing says "ultimate wreck" better than dropping a friggin’ NUCLEAR COOLING TOWER on a pack of opponents!
Timing these power play attacks provides a level of strategy never seen before in a racer, and these attacks can even backfire if not planned out, resulting in a self-wreck.
Car models are fictional, as they were in Burnout. However I did notice that the model names were based on characters from lesser known action films such as the Ryback (as in Casey Ryback from Steven Seagal’s Under Siege) and the Cobretti (as in Marion Cobretti from Sylvester Stallone’s cop movie Cobra.) As if Blackrock didn’t think that Split/Second already felt like an action movie, this little touch of genius adds to it!
The destruction in Split/Second is insane, but it’s not just the standard races that are destructive. Special events such as Survival, which involves dodging barrels dropped by semi rigs (similar to the Dreadnaught in Death Race) and Air Strike and Air Revenge missions, both involve dodging chopper based missile attacks (the latter allowing you to bounce them back at the chopper) just to add to the game’s insanity.
But each episode saves the best for last, in the form of an Elite Race. In it, you face off against seven of the toughest racers in the field, and every race is a challenge. The opposition shows no mercy, tails you relentlessly, and is not afraid to use Powerplay attacks. The strange thing though is no matter how challenging they got, I kept going back to them because they were so much fun, or maybe it’s because the soundtrack that plays during these races kept drawing me back.
And what a soundtrack it is. Unlike other racing games that feature generic rock, Split/Second actually sounds like it would in a reality show, or even better, an action movie similar to Death Race. The Elite Race track music alone is so good that I would love to have it on iTunes!
In fact, the overall environment is excellent. Visuals are stunning; they run very smooth even with all hell breaking loose everywhere, featuring lens flare that rivals that of the latest Star Trek movie! Each episode has a complete intro that shows off the upcoming races, and after each Elite Race is a preview of the next episode, complete with fictional end credits. If this was an actual program, not only would I watch it, but I would buy the season set on DVD!
Offline the game is very enjoyable and quite challenging, even if the Elite Races can be a bit unfair. There are times when cars get too far ahead of me that I’m unable to catch up, but I remember I had the same issue when I played Burnout 3. Online, however, it can be a bigger problem, as it seems that races are dominated by those who own the higher end cars, meaning you either have to obtain them in the offline mode first, or you need to purchase them via DLC.
Nonetheless, once the cars can be obtained, Split/Second is insanely fun, whether it is just taking part in racing, or competing in the innovative Air Strike/Revenge challenges. One thing is for sure, Disney and Blackrock had better renew Split/Second for another season, because this is the runaway hit of the year!
PROS: What would seem like a gimmick turns out to be a very strategic racer. Gorgeous, and sounds awesome. Air Strike and Revenge stages a unique twist. Episode ending Elite Races give new meaning to intensity.
CONS: Rather small amount of courses to race, even with their multiple configurations. Online can be limited only to those who unlocked (or purchased) all of the high end cars. Elite races can be very difficult at times.