Split Second

Split Second is a game that demands few words in its service or critique. It is unabashed in its presentation, an arcade racer with a one-trick note that keeps it fresh for a few days before droning on into repetitiveness. Think listening to Jack Johnson while hyped on amphetamines and you begin to get the general sense of where I’m going.

Ultimately Split Second is a forgettable title that you’ll remember as fondly and as long as you will the last meal you had at TGI Fridays. However, unlike the subject of that last simile, it is not totally without merit. As a purchase it’s pretty much a flop, but as a weekend rental it holds up remarkably well. Where many other games demand you invest six or eight hours before you recognize the value of your investment, this game is the exact opposite.

It starts on a high note, holds for four hours or so, and then slips irrevocably down a long, slow and totally endless decline. But, the fact remains, those first four hours or so are pretty awesome.

You’d be hard pressed to play Split Second without thinking about Burnout. And, I’m not talking about that new-agey Burnout Paradise stuff. I mean the old school Burnouts that were unabashedly about wanton and unrealistic destruction. Split Second is built from that same synthesized metal, where the entire point of the race has infinitely more to do with making giant explosions than outracing your opponents.

The conceit — and, fair warning, it’s paper thin — revolves around a television game show where the sets that pass for race tracks are filled with destructible environments and explosive traps that racers set off with "power plays". The short version is this: you power slide, jump and draft to fill a power meter that allows you to blow stuff up next to your opponents. Really, that's the whole game in a nutshell.

The nice thing is that explosions aren’t just oil drums and canisters. Think Red Faction levels of chaos. Collapsing buildings. Ships crashing into docks. Cargo planes falling from the sky. Rock slides. Train wrecks. The boom factor is not lacking, and by filling your meter enough you can completely destroy your way into a dramatically changed landscape mid-way through a race.

It’s hard not to get a little giddy when you hit a jump at speed, land on the runway of a capsizing aircraft carrier, dodge sliding fighter jets, and explode some fuel tanks to take out the guy in front of you before flying through the still burning wreckage of the blast as you launch back toward dry land. Even the second time you do it, it’s still awesome.

The ninth time, it’s old hat.

And, that’s the problem. The TV show setting of the game is a good one, because all the explosions, all the carnage, all the chaos are totally staged. The next time you run the track, the explosions will all be in the same place, and that phenomenal crash landing cargo jet starts to become as much a part of the scenery as anything else.

Ultimately, Split Second just isn’t a good enough pure racer to keep you wanting to play. It’s gaming as done by Michael Bay — built entirely around sensory impact, but with little depth to keep you coming back for more.

This is one of those games where if you asked me about it six months from now, I’d probably have a hard time remembering anything. It’s the perfect appetizer, tasty but not filling in the least. Play it for a weekend and you’ll feel refreshed and ready to play a game you actually care about.

Comments

It’s hard not to get a little giddy when you hit a jump at speed, land on the runway of a capsizing aircraft carrier, dodge sliding fighter jets, and explode some fuel tanks to take out the guy in front of you before flying through the still burning wreckage of the blast as you launch back toward dry land. Even the second time you do it, it’s still awesome.

The ninth time, it’s old hat.

Of course, when I read that first sentence the game sounds incredible. But I absolutely understand how by the nth time it would be just going through the motions.

I'm reading Jesse Schell's "The Art of Game Design" right now, and in it he tries to define fun: "Fun is pleasure with surprises". By removing the surprise of its set piece "power plays", as on subsequent plays each one just becomes rote, Split/Second seems to sap its own surprise (sorry for the surplus of sibilance), and consequently, what should make it fun.

If that can happen in a weekend, that's a very poorly conceived game.

Now contrast that with Burnout. The surprises of Burnout 3 are not on the same spectacular magnitude as Split/Second's, but each one is unpredictable, unique to a particular instance and circumstances—they are, bear with me, emergent. Or, surprising. Which is immensely, perpetually satisfying, so much that Edge can wax poetic about the game over five years since it released. I imagine S/S will be lucky to be talked about five months from now.

Very true - it's great fun for the first couple of sessions, but that's really it. I can't justify a full price purchase.

I'm really interested in seeing what Black Rock makes next. Then again, I expected great things after Pure, and Split Second didn't quite deliver. But even so, Split Second 2 could be all kinds of great, if they manage to solve the design issues and repetition seen here.

If they could find something more fun to do while in first place ...

Gravey wrote:

Which is immensely, perpetually satisfying, so much that Edge can wax poetic about the game over five years since it released. I imagine S/S will be lucky to be talked about five months from now.

Which is why I'm very confused about Edge's 8/10 SS review. (For comparison, Alan Wake got a 7/10 in the same issue.) It's entirely throwaway fun and while Edge says that "sometimes that's enough", that's really only true if your "sometimes" is a couple of hours for your sixty Euros.

garion333 wrote:

If they could find something more fun to do while in first place ...

...being the biggest design issue I was referring to.

Gravey wrote:

I'm reading Jesse Schell's "The Art of Game Design" right now, and in it he tries to define fun: "Fun is pleasure with surprises". By removing the surprise of its set piece "power plays", as on subsequent plays each one just becomes rote, Split/Second seems to sap its own surprise (sorry for the surplus of sibilance), and consequently, what should make it fun.

So then the perfect counter-example would be Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Is Blur significantly better in this regard? Has anyone here played enough of both to be able to compare?

jlaakso wrote:
Gravey wrote:

Which is immensely, perpetually satisfying, so much that Edge can wax poetic about the game over five years since it released. I imagine S/S will be lucky to be talked about five months from now.

Which is why I'm very confused about Edge's 8/10 SS review. (For comparison, Alan Wake got a 7/10 in the same issue.) It's entirely throwaway fun and while Edge says that "sometimes that's enough", that's really only true if your "sometimes" is a couple of hours for your sixty Euros.

I treat Edge reviews as Bizarro World reviews. They pan the good ones and felate the bad ones.

...Inflate? No, i probably had it right the first time.

Minarchist wrote:
Gravey wrote:

I'm reading Jesse Schell's "The Art of Game Design" right now, and in it he tries to define fun: "Fun is pleasure with surprises". By removing the surprise of its set piece "power plays", as on subsequent plays each one just becomes rote, Split/Second seems to sap its own surprise (sorry for the surplus of sibilance), and consequently, what should make it fun.

So then the perfect counter-example would be Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Is Blur significantly better in this regard? Has anyone here played enough of both to be able to compare?

Blur doesn't come to something like SMG2 where you are surprised around each corner, but it's COD-like progression through levels nets you cars and mods to equip (longer shield, more powerful weapon x, etc.) along with new maps. So Blur unfolds a bit more progressively than S/S, but you will reach a point where you've seen it all and done it all, but that's true of any racing game. Blur is set up to have a long tail though (multiplayer), there's little in S/S that brings you back other than showing it off to friends.

I was plesantly surprised by a recent trip to TGI Fridays. After a many year hiatus, I found it quick, decent for young children, and the ribs were tasty. I was surprised it wasn't the heaping pile of refuse I remember it being.

After some hours with both, Blur gets my money, hands down. It's a fun multiplayer thing and works very well in 4-player split screen.

I usually really like Edge reviews. This thing with Wake and Split Second confuses me. It's not just the scores, either, the review text is out of whack, as well.

Elysium wrote:

And, I’m not talking about that new-agey Burnout Paradise stuff. I mean the old school Burnouts that were unabashedly about wanton and unrealistic destruction.

I take umbrage. Paradise is just as smashy crashy as Burnout 3 or Revenge ever were. Just because you're not driving around in circles doesn't mean you can't set up some spectacular crashes. Of course it's been a while since I played the older Burnouts, maybe I just got burned out on them. Nyuk nyuk.

Too bad I can't rent Split Second on the PC, it does sound like fun. Especially the Michael Bay scene you described!

S/S wishes it was as fun as older Burnouts. Vehicle on vehicle collisions are pretty much nonexistent.

Despite its explosive trappings, the carnage in S/S is not visceral at all. At least not to me. And cars, when they crash, seem to always split into halves or pieces. The wrecks don't even have much variety to them.

EDIT: The multiplayer in blur has not gotten old yet for me or my friends (we play almost nightly, hot potato-style). The races are always unique and unpredictable online and we still break out into giddy laughter and white-knuckled sweats when cracking the Top 3 (or even just beating out the last car) right before the finish line.

Reviews that put S/S above blur and mention both racers astound me.

I purchased both and can't trade in S/S soon enough. The online is severely unbalanced (you only have access to the cars you've unlocked in single player) and the single player is almost the same (the rubber band AI ensures that you'll have to revisit early races once you've unlocked better cars -- my experience, at least).

In blur, even lower ranked drivers have a chance at victory due to the choatic nature of weaponized 20-car races, although skill, track knowledge and car selection will often prevail. Anything can happen, though, and often does.

I own both racers and feel like I've put them through their paces both online and off, both alone and with friends. Feel free to ask specific questions if you have them.

Minarchist wrote:
Gravey wrote:

I'm reading Jesse Schell's "The Art of Game Design" right now, and in it he tries to define fun: "Fun is pleasure with surprises". By removing the surprise of its set piece "power plays", as on subsequent plays each one just becomes rote, Split/Second seems to sap its own surprise (sorry for the surplus of sibilance), and consequently, what should make it fun.

So then the perfect counter-example would be Super Mario Galaxy 2.

I think you misunderstood what I meant, thought I might not have been clear. SMG2 has a lot to show the player, arguably much more than S/S, which is what I think garion333 is saying. But that's mistaking the content as the surprises. Yes, new content can be surprising, and the game with more unique content will surprise longer, in that sense. But no game can have infinite content, so they'll exhaust those kinds of surprises.

So I mean surprises that emerge from the interacting mechanics. A game can have little content and few rules, but if they all work together in deep and meaningful ways, the resultant actions can be infinite—and continually surprising. That's the kind of surprises that I, and Schell, are referring to. The ATC tower in S/S will always crash the same way at the same point on the track, every time. But every crash in Burnout 3 is a unique result of the cars, their positions, speeds, aggression, the crash physics, the environment, so that even years onwards you will get something new, something you have never seen before, and can still elicit a burst of laughter, a gasp, or a wince. Whereas in S/S, it will still be the same tower crashing the same way.

Ah, that too makes sense. Blur still offers up more continual surprises for me than S/S even after the game has completely played its hand. Mister Magnus is speaking directly to that, so I won't go into anymore detail.

Sorry but Split Second's online is so much fun I just cant put the game down

draez wrote:

Sorry but Split Second's online is so much fun I just cant put the game down

I'd be curious to know what it is that keeps you coming back. I haven't found that hook.

I don't really see why everyone is so down on SS. Yes, it got a bit stale after 4-6 hours, but those 4-6 hours were an absolute blast.

It's probably important to note that I only rented the game. I may have had a different opinion if I had coughed up $60 for SS, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the best rental games I've played in a very long time.

Dyni wrote:

I don't really see why everyone is so down on SS. Yes, it got a bit stale after 4-6 hours, but those 4-6 hours were an absolute blast.

It's probably important to note that I only rented the game. I may have had a different opinion if I had coughed up $60 for SS, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the best rental games I've played in a very long time.

That's the thing, really. We don't get rentals over here (or if we do, I never saw them). At a bargain bin price, totally worth it.

Dyni wrote:

I don't really see why everyone is so down on SS. Yes, it got a bit stale after 4-6 hours, but those 4-6 hours were an absolute blast.

It's probably important to note that I only rented the game. I may have had a different opinion if I had coughed up $60 for SS, but I'll be damned if it isn't one of the best rental games I've played in a very long time.

Your 4-6 hours were about double the value I got out of it. The thrill was gone very quickly for me thanks to the rubberband AI, lack of variety in crash set-pieces, and the inability to increase the number of laps in multiplayer.

If I can change the route (but never before lap 2) three laps on a track isn't long enough for me to get any real enjoyment out of the novelty.

At $40 I'm glad amazon is buying it back for $35.

Mister Magnus wrote:
draez wrote:

Sorry but Split Second's online is so much fun I just cant put the game down

I'd be curious to know what it is that keeps you coming back. I haven't found that hook.

The hook is the online play but then again it's more the vehicle for the hook than the actual.
There are just brilliant moments of unexpected game play in almost every other race. At one point I was leaning into a curve to initiate a slide around the final bend of the final lap. I cut it close to slide in front of the car in #1 position. Any closer and I would have hit the inner curb, any further - into the car. But this time luck was on my side and I robbed position #1 from the lead car in a fraction of a second before crossing the finish.
Those are the kind of moments that keep me coming back, and thanks to the distributable environments plays like them are everywhere, if you are looking for it.
The lack of levels aren't really a show stopper for me in the case of Split/Second. With the path changing, destruction, short cuts, and power ups those small moments where something unexpected pans out in my favor are varied and is what brings me back over and over.
What's the next big play I can make against the other drivers that I know leaves them (and sometimes admittedly myself) in awe?
That's what keeps me coming back.

draez wrote:

The hook is the online play but then again it's more the vehicle for the hook than the actual.
There are just brilliant moments of unexpected game play in almost every other race. At one point I was leaning into a curve to initiate a slide around the final bend of the final lap. I cut it close to slide in front of the car in #1 position. Any closer and I would have hit the inner curb, any further - into the car. But this time luck was on my side and I robbed position #1 from the lead car in a fraction of a second before crossing the finish.
Those are the kind of moments that keep me coming back, and thanks to the distributable environments plays like them are everywhere, if you are looking for it.
The lack of levels aren't really a show stopper for me in the case of Split/Second. With the path changing, destruction, short cuts, and power ups those small moments where something unexpected pans out in my favor are varied and is what brings me back over and over.
What's the next big play I can make against the other drivers that I know leaves them (and sometimes admittedly myself) in awe?
That's what keeps me coming back.

I don't mean this in a condescending way, but what you're describing, outside of the particular specialties of S/S, happens in every mp racing game.

garion333 wrote:
draez wrote:

The hook is the online play but then again it's more the vehicle for the hook than the actual.
There are just brilliant moments of unexpected game play in almost every other race. At one point I was leaning into a curve to initiate a slide around the final bend of the final lap. I cut it close to slide in front of the car in #1 position. Any closer and I would have hit the inner curb, any further - into the car. But this time luck was on my side and I robbed position #1 from the lead car in a fraction of a second before crossing the finish.
Those are the kind of moments that keep me coming back, and thanks to the distributable environments plays like them are everywhere, if you are looking for it.
The lack of levels aren't really a show stopper for me in the case of Split/Second. With the path changing, destruction, short cuts, and power ups those small moments where something unexpected pans out in my favor are varied and is what brings me back over and over.
What's the next big play I can make against the other drivers that I know leaves them (and sometimes admittedly myself) in awe?
That's what keeps me coming back.

I don't mean this in a condescending way, but what you're describing, outside of the particular specialties of S/S, happens in every mp racing game.

Absolutely, I should have written more on how it relates to the one thing Split/Second does well, the changing of a track's layout as it relates to destructible environments. With the right timing you can go from being 8th to 1st with a well placed detonation that opens up a shorter route to the finish line.
I do agree that anyone who plays this title online without first finishing the single player story mode will start off severely hampered. Personally, as I wanted to learn the tracks and game play before jumping online I had already finished the story mode and been through each track and car.