By 2008 and the release of Burnout Paradise, the Burnout series had carved out a niche for itself in the racing genre with an emphasis on smashing cars to smithereens. Two years later though, and there was nothing new coming from Criterion Studios to keep the series going. There was a lesser known title incoming though, one that looked to fulfil the smashing and crashing desires of Burnout fans, in a totally unique and exhilarating way. So how come no-one has heard of Split/Second?
Released in the US on 18th May 2010, Split/Second: Velocity – to give the game its full Sunday name – celebrates its tenth anniversary this week. Coming from the excellent Black Rock Studio, who also produced the also underrated off-road racer Pure back in 2008, and published by Disney Interactive Studios, Split/Second was an arcade racer set in a reality TV show. Racers drive around a purpose built city and then detonate various environmental effects, with the end result being to hinder your opponents as much as possible as you cruise to victory through destroyed buildings, shipyards and much more.
These were known as Power Plays, and ranged from blowing up tanker trucks and triggering shortcuts, all the way to derailing a train, destroying a dam or even crash landing a plane onto your opponents. These more elaborate Power Plays also drastically change the racetrack for the rest of the event.
All the usual racing modes were there, including Race and Elimination, but with this unique destruction mechanic it offered the chance to experience some wildly different modes. Detonator events were like Time Trials, but instead all the explosive and track-changing elements were rigged to go off around you as the only competitor. Survival events had big rig trucks dropping barrels off their payload that you had to dodge, scoring points for doing so.
Perhaps my favourite – and most difficult – were the Air Strike events. Again, it was just you on the track, but you were against an attack helicopter that would launch missiles that you repeatedly had to dodge. You were also awarded points for doing so. You couldn’t just drive slowly though and expect to score points, as Split/Second was wise to that and would pop up telling you that you were “TOO SLOW”, not awarding anything for surviving that missile barrage. So, you had to drive fast, dodge missiles, survive and score points; if all that sounds like exhilarating fun then trust me, it definitely was.
Split/Second delivered a mix of arcade racing and destruction that was undoubtedly in the same vein as the Burnout games, but was also original enough that it could stand on its own. And it was far more tactical than the previous description gives it credit for; Power Plays could only be performed when you had built up your meter far enough by performing jumps, drafting, drifting and other manoeuvres. Smaller ones would only require a small chunk to perform – and could be done more than once – while the larger ones would require more effort and could only be done just the once. But whilst you were earning all this juice for your meters to perform the Power Plays, so were your opponents…
The presentation was also something given a lot of attention. Rather than opting for crowding the HUD with different elements – and in turn detracting from the action on-screen – all the information you needed was displayed on the back of the car like a little hologram on the bumper. It would only display lap number, overall position and the Power Play meter; even things like a speedometer were considered surplus to requirement. This helped massively, because as you learnt the track layouts you also needed to take into account where you could trigger destructive elements, and these pinged on the screen when they first became available. So, the helicopter in the sky could be seen and triggered because there was no unnecessary clutter on the HUD.
Of course, online multiplayer was included but it had a very bizarre ranking system that to this day I have not ever seen since. When first starting online, you have an online form of 99, and the intention is to reduce this to single digits. Form is reduced or increased based on your performance in the previous race; if you were in an eight-player race and finished in the top four, your online form would decrease, whereas if you finished 5th or worse, it would increase. I appreciated something a bit different, as well as providing rewards to more than just the first position.
After the brilliant off-road racer Pure in 2008, my hopes were high for what came next from Black Rock Studios, and Split/Second was definitely up my street having spent most of my adolescence on Burnout 3. I have never been a massive fan of open-world driving games, so where Burnout Paradise was a big disappointment for me, Split/Second looked to fill that void. Despite only having 15 tracks at launch – DLC did appear down the line – there was a lot of replayability in them in the same way that you never tire of watching your favourite action films.
One area that did really let me down was the soundtrack. Pure had a brilliant mix of rock and drum and bass – featuring Pendulum and The Qemists that fused both genres together – but Split/Second didn’t offer any licenced music. Instead it opted for an original soundtrack – again in keeping with the action film vibes – which admittedly did make a lot of sense, but still felt like a misstep for me.
Sadly, a sequel was in the early stages of development at Black Rock but was canned after Disney Interactive Studios consolidated the studio down, before then closing it for good in July 2011. Studios formed from the alumni of Black Rock include ShortRound Games, who made another racer called RGX Showdown, and Boss Alien who have focused more on the mobile market.
Disney probably still own the IP rights to both Pure and Split/Second so the likelihood of either games getting a sequel is low whilst they have their hands full making another 15 Star Wars films…
Hopefully this look back has convinced you to give Split/Second a try – it’s unlike any other racer I’ve ever played. But how do you get to playing it? Good news, it is available on Xbox 360 running with Backwards Compatibility so you can play it straight from your Xbox One. It was even one of the Games with Gold titles back in February 2018, so if you’ve had it sat on your hard drive since then, now is the time to give it a try!
For those that missed out however, it can be picked up through the Xbox Store for a bargain at £8.99. Perhaps most incredibly for 21st century gaming, the servers are still open for online as well!
What are your memories of Split/Second? Do you remember it from launch, or did you only play it when it became part of the Games with Gold scheme? What were your favourite game modes? Do you fancy a game?! Hit us up in the comments section with your thoughts!