Going into the racing-heavy E3, with showings of Forza Motorsport 3, Need for Speed: Shift and Blur (to name a few), we didn't know what to expect from Black Rock Studio (the team behind 2008's Pure). In the end we walked away with more anticipation we've had for a racing game since Burnout Paradise was first revealed. Forgetting some of the hang-ups we had with the demo, Split/Second is one of the most intense racing experiences we've had in ages.
Grabbing a seat, Xbox 360 controller in hand at Disney's booth during E3 2009, the Split/Second demo featured one track -- the airport shown off in the E3 trailer for the game. In the beginning of the race, players jockey for position on your standard track, circling the airport perimeter -- then, things change drastically.
The action is fast, intense and ... simply put, extremely rad.
Filling the action meter allows players to trigger large environment-altering effects. Triggering the airport control tower sends the structure plummeting to the ground below, cutting off a stretch of road for the remainder of the race and forcing players to drive through a airport landing strip (where planes will land during the race). Players can also destroy a road leading past the terminal, forcing cars to again change their course and drive through the terminal itself -- thankfully it's deserted of would-be travelers.
While the world crashing moments are extremely rewarding, the game has poor car crash animations. In comparison to the world's triggered events, vehicle collisions aren't nearly as impressive as we'd like them to be.
Although Split/Second isn't scheduled to hit stores until Q1 2010, it should be noted that the game did suffer from inconsistent frame rate, mostly dropping during intense triggered events. According to a Disney representative, Black Rock is confident the game will run smoothly when it ships.
While most racing games live and die by the amount of included vehicles, Split/Second is a game where the environments are the key element to the game's success. Too few tracks and the experience will get boring over time. Split/Second allows players to change the world around them, essentially creating a new track on the fly -- but if the game ships with a limited number of tracks, it may not matter how intense the action is in the end.
It's very difficult to take a genre that is used to so many basic conventions and turn it on its ear. Hiccups and gripes aside, Split/Second is one of the best racing experiences we've had in a long time and we can't wait for more.