Monday, August 9, 2010

Review // Split/Second

I can't tell you how many times I played the Split/Second demo, racing the same track over and over, always with a stupid grin on my face. This is a game I was excited for. But when I finally started playing, and the deeper I got into it, the more it felt like a bad JRPG, and the less I wanted to keep going.

You Got Your Level Grinding In My Racing Game

Split/Second is a game that relies a little too heavily on first impressions. At first glance, it's a phenomenally gorgeous racer with seemingly endless potential for white-knuckled, unpredictable racing. A few hours into the full game, though, revealed a racer where frustration pervades every aspect of the experience, from the race progression to the online play to the actual racing.

Unlocking new "episodes" and cars is as simple as racing the events you already have, with a refreshingly forgiving twist: Even placing last in a race will net you a few points. The problem is that the cars I kept unlocking were always slower than anything I was up against, and sometimes worse than the cars I already had, forcing me to race harder just to stay out of last place.

I felt like I was playing a bad JRPG and was too low level for the current area. I'd unlock a new car and events, then watch AI opponents zip right past me in my fancy new car and end up placing somewhere close to last. I had to go back through old races and grind out enough points to unlock a car with better stats that could at least compete in new events.

Even then, there's a linear progression to the car unlocks, so I still found myself occasionally working to unlock cars I just didn't want. There is no event type in Split/Second that doesn't favor speed and drift above all else, so heavy trucks and cars without fast acceleration are completely useless, no matter what the loading screen tips would have you believe.

When Speed Is Not Enough, Indeed

If Split/Second was a strong enough racer, I probably wouldn't mind grinding to get a better car, but it has a lot of problems. Here are some real notes I made while playing:

  • This track? Again? Really?
  • The respawn system is really inconsistent. In the same race, I went from 3rd to 1st after a crash, then 1st to 8th.
  • Ugh, I hate rubberbanding. These cars keep catching up no matter how well I drive.
  • Wow. They wrench control from me to show how I took down an opponent, then point me at a wall or something just before giving me control again. This keeps happening.
  • I can't remember the last time I yelled "bullshit!" at a game this much.
  • The online is stupidly unbalanced. Everybody is using the exact same car. A car significantly faster than anything I have.

I expected the online play to be Split/Second's saving grace, but it might actually be worse than the single-player. You can only use the cars you've unlocked from the single-player campaign, so there's no point even trying the online play until you've beaten the game since everybody you'll meet already has. The matchmaking does nothing to alleviate this problem, pitting me in my first online match against guys who had already maxed out the online ranking system.

In my first few matches, I watched everyone rocket past me in the first 5 seconds and never saw them again. I decided to stop playing online until I beat the campaign. When I came back, I still didn't quite have the insane car everyone else had, but at least I wasn't coming in last place every time anymore. However, with Split/Second's ranking system, you can earn a level in one race only to have it taken right back after your next race. It felt impossible to rank up. It felt like I was wasting my time.

I had really been looking forward to Split/Second, but it let me down at every turn. If the developer can learn from the mistakes of this game and make the sequel that much better though, I'm definitely on board.

Split/Second / $59.99 / PS3 [reviewed], 360