Done Playing: Split Second Demo (Xbox 360)

When I was in college my one grand idea for a game was a jetski racer something like Wave Race but with courses that changed every lap. Aside from cycling tides things like a scuttling oil tanker that empties into the sea, capsizes, and finally ignites would play out as you completed laps. A hurricane would grow from a cloudy sky and see you eventually racing through a flooding port town. In all the years since I tossed that idea in my mind closet I’ve seen a lot of racing games emphasize disaster (the best being Burnout 3) but nothing that’s come so close to my vision until Split/Second.

Billed as a Burnout where you use the environment to take out opponents had me excited, as did all the talk about airport towers collapsing and incoming jetliners as obstactles. Playing the demo, though, has been a deflating smack in the face that makes me want to start doodling my own raceways again in hopes that somebody, some day gets this right. What really killed it is that the game’s reliance on clever environmental attacks makes the whole thing feel like a kart racer, the absolute last thing I ever want to play. Seriously, an 80 hour JRPG is better than even a few hours of suffering through another round of “wild and wacky kart combat”.

I do like that the attacks unleash chaos on the roadway, some even changing the course altogether, but usually a good old fashioned shunt into a stationary object is more satisfying than any kind of weaponized attack. To see a car scraping past me one instant and then completely disappear as I nudge them into a face-to-face with Mr. Retaining Wall is simply bliss. Call me outdated if you want. Sadly, that tactic is something that Split/Second — for all its carefully choreographed environments — just doesn’t allow. With no juice to trigger an attack and only a small stretch to the finish I thought for sure I could swing wide and T-Bone the guy into some debris. But no matter how or when I tried this throughout the demo they always slipped ahead like an ungrappleable oil wrestler on wheels. Unexplainable and, in my book, inexcusable.

Screen-rumbling carnage, fiery explosions, slow-mo takedowns, and a great presentation may make it look like a game I’d enjoy but all the stuff I hate about kart racers seems to be at the heart of Split/Second. I’m still interested in seeing the delightful devastation in the final product but not so thrilled about the game I’ll have to endure in order to see it. Also, Die Hard Trilogy did car-on-copter action better.

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