Split/Second, the Black Rock Studio-developed racer that achieved cult status on the last generation of consoles, poses a question that only has one answer: Do you crave a game in which you drive fast cars and cause mass destruction? Framed around a fictional reality television program, Split/Second ($19.99) merges arcade-style racing and huge, environment-wrecking explosions to form an addictive, thrilling racer that will keep you hugging corners, jockeying for position, and downing jumbo jets well into the night. That said, Split/Second is not without flaws: The online servers are dead, there's some screen tearing, and the game could benefit from additional environments. Still, if you're looking for a PC racing game that isn't aimed at the Top Gear crowd, Split/Second is a PC game you'll want in your Steam library.
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Experience the Carmageddon
Split/Second's main attraction is its multitiered PowerPlay system, which lets you take out opposing drivers who seek fame and fortune. You earn PowerPlay points by driving with purpose. Skillfully drafting, drifting, and jumping fills the multitiered gauge. When at least one tier is filled, you can detonate particular pieces of the environment when a rival racer drives near them—you'll know what you can destroy and when by the appearance of a blue icon near a particular object in the environment. It's immensely satisfying to discover that the helicopter that's been hovering overhead drops bombs on your opponents when you uncork a PowerPlay attack. That said, timing is key. You don't want to activate a PowerPlay only to blow yourself to smithereens.
If you max out the PowerPlay meter, Split/Second gives you the option to cause a major disaster. The representative red icons appear less frequently than their blue counterparts, but high-level PowerPlays have the potential to unleash truly impressive carnage. For example, I activated a red PowerPlay while in last place, and watched in glee as a jumbo jet crashed onto the tarmac, wiping out all the drivers in front of me. I howled!
Remember, though, your seven rivals have the same capabilities, so you need to keep your eyes on the road and the environment. Note: your PowerPlay meter also fills a bit when you swerve away from an enemy's PowerPlay at the very last moment. Use this to your advantage by quickly steering toward danger, and then away, to fill your meter.
You Can't Outrun the Competition
PowerPlays have a second use: They can be used to alter the environment. Sometimes this is the result of environmental damage; for example, detonating a parked tanker alters the track by blocking a previously accessible area and opening a new one. PowerPlays also open shortcuts, so that you may shave time off the clock.
Those shortcuts prove handy, too, as Split/Second has some the most blatant use of rubber band AI that I've ever seen in a racing game. Once you've moved beyond the first handful of contests, the competition becomes incredibly difficult to ditch. If you're in first place and crash, you may end up in last place during those few seconds of down time. Initially, Split/Second's AI bothered me, but then I realized that its ability to keep cars in contention is a positive. If you could obliterate rivals through deft driving and PowerPlays, the game would be a breeze—and boring. As is, Split/Second's AI ensures tense races, and chaos, from start to finish.
The Need for Speed
You can tell how far behind you are by the placement rank that's positioned just beneath your car. I like that it's positioned near your vehicle, so that you don't have to dart your eyes away from the action to another area of the screen. In fact, Split/Second's HUD is remarkably clean—there isn't even a speedometer! The PowerPlay meter and the clock that occasionally appears to show how far behind you are from the next racer are located near your car, too. Naturally, there's no need for a map, as the roads are constantly morphing. This is unlike Burnout Paradise, a game with an open-world structure that requires a map for navigation.
Split/Second has dozens of sexy sports cars to unlock and, thankfully, they aren't licensed. Though a game such as Forza Horizon 2 boasts cool, real-world wheels like the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and Lamborghini Huracán LP610-4, that may prove a long-term detriment. History has proven, particularly in the case of the outstanding Outrun 2, that expired licenses lead to games being yanked from online video game marketplaces like Steam and Xbox Live. Split/Second's fake but awesome vehicles won't contribute to the video game industry's massive preservation problem.
The cars each have varying attributes. Some have incredible acceleration rates but are easily rattled and pushed off-course when hit by an explosion's shockwave. Others are incredibly durable, but have trouble hugging curves. As a result, it's important to experiment until you find the right car for the right track.
You can take the cars for a spin in a variety of different modes besides the standard contests. Air Attack, for example, tasks you with driving to the finish area, while avoiding missiles fired from a helicopter. And Survival sees you bolting toward the goal, while contending with a time limit and a series of trucks that drop explosive barrels on the road. These side-missions make for a fun diversion from the main game.
Split/Second has many features you'd expect from a Steam release, including Steam Cloud saves and Steam Trading Cards. Sadly, the only official multiplayer that's available is local, split-screen play, as Split/Second's servers crashed and burned a few years back. That said, the PC gaming community has come to the rescue with a fix.
On the upside, Split/Second isn't a very demanding game. All that you need to run the racer is a gaming PC with at least 3GB of RAM and an ATI Radeon X1600 or Nvidia GeForce 7600 (or greater) graphics card.
The cars zip around the tracks at a steady 30 frames per second. PC gaming diehards may decry the lack of 60 frames-per-second action, but the vehicles move smoothly and quickly through the highly detailed courses. Unfortunately, screen tearing pops up from time to time, especially in cutscenes. The tearing isn't awful, but it is noticeable.
Driving fast and making things blow up is at the heart of Split/Second. It's easy to dismiss the game as a gimmick-based racer, but it delivers a pulse-pounding experience from starting line to finish line. Sure, Split/Second has flaws, such as screen tearing and the lack of official online servers, but apart from Burnout Paradise, the Grid series, and Sonic & All-Stars Racing, arcade-style racing games for the PC are all too rare. Split/Second is one of the best.