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.