I haven’t played it, so can’t really comment on how much better than this iPhone effort the console version of Split/Second is, but a quick gander at a couple of YouTube videos of the game in action and an impressive Metascore of 83 confirms my suspicions. It is. A lot.
While by no means a disaster, and certainly managing to look the part with slick presentation, ridiculously curvaceous sports cars and explosive eye candy aplenty, this portable spin-off of the Xbox/PS3 smash hit still fails to deliver on its tantalizing promise of marrying the enjoyable excess of a Hollywood blockbuster with some good old fashioned arcade racing.
Cast as a contestant on a bonkers reality TV show (think The Running Man on four wheels), Split/Second has you competing against a pack of aggressive rivals in a fast-paced chase toward the finish line. Sound more or less like every other racer ever? Enter the game’s attention grabbing gimmick – the ability to tear environments asunder and tactically wreck your opponents with well timed “powerplays”. Here’s the dealio: tracks are in fact giant sets rigged with explosives and each driver is armed with a detonator. So rather than simply shunting other vehicles out of the way and attempting to steal, and keep, the lead by way of skillful driving, the focus here is on sabotaging other players while trying to avoid being blown to bits or buried under a pile of rubble yourself.
Which is not to say some expert wheelmanship isn’t required; on the contrary, drifting, drafting, pulling off jumps and grabbing air charges up the all-important gauge visible beneath your car. Once you’ve topped up, a tap is all that’s required to unleash utter destruction.
When triggered, fireballs rip through streets, overpasses crumble, vehicles get tossed about like children’s toys, chunks of asphalt and shards of glass hurtle toward the camera, and Michael Bay pops onscreen to personally congratulate the player on the cinematic levels of carnage they’ve just caused. Well maybe not that last one, but you get the idea. This truly is explosive stuff; a series of action packed fracas played out across a multitude of game modes, taking in both single-player events (race, time-trails, elimination etc, etc) and online multiplayer machine versus machine mayhem to boot.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this all sounds like a lot of fun. It should be. Yet all the gleaming chrome and flashy pyrotechnics in the world can’t distract from the fact Split/Second fails to deliver the basic essentials of a decent iDevice racer, arcade or otherwise. Dodgy crash physics, aggravatingly unforgiving collision detection, and overly sensitive tilt controls conspiring to scupper the game’s obvious potential for being a Burnout stand-in on the platform.
An average race generally consists of you gaining the lead early on, doing a few flawless laps, only to be bombarded by enemies’ powerplays in the final seconds of a race, or losing interest and careening into a wall or some other obstacle, then watching as your motor goes into a jerky, unrealistic crash animation before coming to a grinding halt. This air of unpredictability would be fine, welcome even, if it weren’t for the lack of precision when steering and the fact that so much as glancing off a barrier, wall, or jutting corner means instant car wreck and eating everyone elses dust. As tracks are rapidly transformed into flaming obstacle courses strewn with overturned cars and other over-sized shrapnel, these issues become even more glaringly obvious as it’s often hard enough to swerve to avoid your own powerplays in time, let alone those that other racers frequently fire your way.
It all amounts to a game that’s frustrating, and not much fun to play. Sure a bunch of shit getting blown up is always fun to see, but after the majesty of Real Racing, the visceral thrills of Need for Speed: Shift, and the kart racing riffing Raging Thunder 2, it isn’t enough to secure Split/Second a place in the premier racing pack given the game’s shortcomings. What saves it, just about, from being a total write-off is the sheer volume of content and welcome addition of online face-offs. Ultimately though, there’s no escaping the fact that Split/Second feels an awful lot like an extended advertisment for the bigger, better console game. The bomb this ain’t.
iFanzine Verdict: Its ludicrously high-concept premise has fuelled a break-out console hit and would make for great reality TV (Disney so should do it!), yet on iphone Split/Second is a remarkably underwhelming and pedestrian affair. If it’s arcade racing thrills you’re after, Raging Thunder 2 offers far more bang for your buck.