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This shallow but rambunctious arcade racer may have only one trick up its sleeve, but it's a really good trick.
- Power plays lead to some fiery thrills
- Slick racing model with a good sense of speed
- Survival and Airstrike modes are neat twists.
- Thin package that relies too much on a single mechanic
- Scant online options
- Online scoring bugs.
Speeding down an airport runway in a shiny red sports car is cool; speeding down an airport runway with an out-of-control aircraft thundering toward you is insane. That's the idea behind Split/Second, an arcade racer in which you wreck your opponents by triggering destructive hot spots scattered all about the track. The frequent explosions, tumbling debris, and resulting tug-of-war among racers are undeniably stimulating, at least for a while. You'll whoop for joy when you demolish four opponents at once as they pass under a fuel station and moan aloud when a falling concrete beam crushes your vehicle like a beer can. These jolts are electrifying, but they aren't lasting ones. Once you learn the tracks and the tricks, the excitement dies away. Then, you realize that underneath the booms and bangs is a solid but one-dimensional racer that relies almost completely on a single mechanic. That mechanic isn't enough to boost Split/Second to the head of the pack, but it is still a fun racer with a lot of speed and a lot of spark.
Split/Second is all about power plays. As you zip about the 11 tracks (a 12th empty slot hints at the possibility of future downloadable content), you earn power by drifting, drafting, and getting air. Once you gain enough power, icons appear, indicating an opportunity to take down opponents by triggering a destructive event. If you press a button, a helicopter might drop metal pipes onto the course, a crane may go sliding across the roadway, or rocks and boulders may erupt from a canyon wall. Alternatively, you might trigger a bridge to be lowered or a door to be raised, opening up a temporary shortcut. If you trigger a level-two power play after completely filling your power bar, the devastation is even more dramatic. A chunk of roadway could collapse, changing that entire section of the course, or you might cause that enormous airplane to barrel menacingly down the runway. Just be mindful: You could fall victim to your own power play.
The first few times you unleash your newfound power on an opponent are breathtaking. Explosions and screeches are loud and obnoxious, and if you're driving a lighter vehicle, the powerful shocks might send you careening out of control for a moment. You won't always steer clear of trouble, however. Depending on your position and the timing of your opponent's power play, there may be no evading that enormous obstacle that comes crashing down in front of you. If you've ever cursed the unavoidable blue shell in the Mario Kart series, the inescapable events in Split/Second might annoy you. But getting wrecked is rarely frustrating, for several reasons. Firstly, power play triggers are intelligently laid out, so you aren't likely to get caught up in an inexorable string of accidents. (It's possible to respawn in the middle of more devastation and wreck immediately, but such aggravations are uncommon.) Secondly, the game gets you back into the race quickly after you crash. And thirdly, being behind the pack isn't really a bad thing because it gives you the opportunity to bust up the competition.
The single-player campaign is structured as a reality television show on which you are contestant. Split/Second doesn't do a whole lot with the premise (you won't meet any slimy TV producers or peek in on any bloodthirsty viewers), but each episode's introduction and credit sequence is produced so well that you look forward to seeing what courses you unlock next. Episodes and one-off events include the usual races and elimination matches, all limited to eight participants. There are a few additional modes worth noting, however. In Survivor mode, you earn points by passing a series of semitrucks as you circle around the course. There's some fine print, however: These trucks are dropping explosive barrels onto the track. The more trucks you pass without wrecking, the faster you accumulate points. In Air Revenge mode, you must avoid a helicopter's missile strikes long enough to trigger a power play that deflects the missiles back toward the badly behaving chopper. Neither mode features the environmental devastation that makes Split/Second stand out, but they make for fun and anarchic diversions nonetheless.