Today I make my first foray into the overcrowded world of video games blogging. As some of you know, I am something of a video gaming enthusiast, and enjoy keeping up with the industry. I am not going to be doing anything that you could call journalism with these posts; they are strictly opinion pieces and are intended as just a way for me to write about some of the titles that I enjoy and aspects of video gaming that I find interesting. If you like video games then you might likes these posts, but I understand that not everyone finds this stuff interesting.

In our maiden voyage into the realm of video games blogging, I present to you a game that I think should get a sequel; the first in a planned series of three entries on this topic. Today’s entry is dedicated to one of my favorite racing games of this console generation: Split/Second.

Yup, you’re driving straight into that.

There are plenty of arcade racing games out there. Some even feature events that players can activate to alter the course or attack other drivers. But I haven’t played any that are on the same level of explosion filled insanity as Split/Second. The whole premise of Split/Second is that you are racing on a course meant to be destroyed. There is something of a storyline in this game, about how you’re in a TV show that’s covering this explosive (pun intended) racing league that you’re trying to win, but as with the vast majority of racing games, the story is nearly irrelevant. Your season is broken up into 12 individual episodes, which are broken into six individual events that you try to win. The events include standard races, time trials, and survival modes. In one notable mode, called Air Assault, your car is being pursued by an attack helicopter and you have to dodge its missile volleys as long as possible. In each event you need to place third or better to advance, or achieve a certain time. The better you do, the higher your overall ranking in the season. Each episode finishes with a race against the league’s top-ranked racers, and you need to finish in third place or above to unlock the next episode. At the end of the last episode you need to have earned enough points to be in third place overall or above, as ranked against the elite racers who you faced at the end of each episode, to have “won” the game, (as much as one can “win” this sort of game) though you can always go back and replay old events to boost your overall ranking. If you win the game, you’re treated to a brief cutscene whereby you join the ranks of those elite racers you faced off against and it is implied that a second season of the show is in the works and will be even crazier than the one you just completed. Sadly, no sequel to Split/Second has even been announced.

Let the mayhem begin!
Split/Second’s primary mechanic lies in the various events that you can activate to wreck opponents and/or change the course. These events are called power plays, which are broken into two levels. Level one power plays do things like explode parked cars, hurl construction shovels across the track or drop explosive barrels from a helicopters hovering over the course. Level two power plays are much more dramatic and frequently alter the entire route of the course. Some notable level two power plays include breaking a dam, leveling the cooling towers of a nuclear plant and destroying a bridge. One of my personal favorite level two power plays occurs on the airport course and allows you to cause a jumbo jet to make a crash landing on the runway that you are driving on, forcing you and the other racers to dodge a wall of fire and debris coming straight at you. In order to activate power plays you have to earn them, and you earn power play levels by doing things like drifting, drafting behind opponents and getting airtime by going off jumps. As you do these things a meter at the bottom of the screen fills up and when you have enough you get visual cues that you can now activate a power play that is in range. To earn an all-powerful level two power play you must fill the meter entirely. Each course has different power plays and part of becoming a better player is learning where they are located and the timing to properly use them. Multiple racers can activate various different power plays simultaneously, so you can have times where the entire track suddenly erupts in chaos. Having a parked bus explode followed by a near miss with a wrecking ball and then seeing a smokestack falling down and changing the route might be an audiovisual overload for some, but I personally prefer my racing games to be chaotic, and Split/Second does chaos near perfectly. The visual spectacle is still impressive today, even though the game came out almost three years ago. The excellent audio of explosions, car engines and building collapses, combined with exciting (albeit limited and repetitive) music helps to complete the package of racing insanity. If you have a good sound system for your TV this is a game that will make great usage of it. Split/Second does so many things well that even a person like me who is not the biggest racing game fan can’t help but like it and want a sequel.
You’ll get a brief tutorial on using power plays.
With all that said, there are a few things that I would like to see tweaked or changed with any sequel. The biggest item is the rubber-banding effect in the single player campaign. For those of you who don’t know, rubber-banding is a game mechanic meant to maintain a level of challenge by making the racers in the back of the pack faster to allow them to catch up with the leaders (once the racers in the back catch up the effect is supposed to end). While some amount of rubber-banding is needed in racing games to keep races from being blowouts, Split/Second went overboard with its rubber banding, particularly in the elite races at the end of each episode, meaning that no matter what you did the other races would quickly catch up with you, and usually rocket pass you. Infuriatingly, the rubber-banding mechanic never works in your favor, so if you fall behind in an elite race there is no hope of ever catching the leaders. It’s somewhat sad to know that excessive rubber-banding has been the bane of arcade racing games for a long time. Another more famous game that was notorious for this problem was the old Mario Kart 64. If you played on the highest difficulty setting and an AI player took a big lead there was no way you could possibly catch up, unless somehow there was a volley of five blue shells, one after another (and even that probably wouldn’t be enough). Any sequel to Split/Second should tone down its rubber-banding overall, as well as give you a decent chance to catch up if you fall way behind.
The attack helicopter pays you a visit in Air Assault mode.
The second major thing that I would like to see adjusted is the rate you gain power plays in multiplayer. The primary selling point of Split/Second is the power play system you can use to alter the course or try to wreck other racers. In singleplayer the system works well, but in multiplayer you earn power play levels much slower, primarily because it is much harder to draft behind an opponent in multiplayer (and if you’re a terrible at drifting, like me, the problem is even worse). This slower rate of earning power play levels means significantly fewer of them are activated in multiplayer races, which turns Split/Second into a more traditional racing game and completely defeats the point of playing it as opposed to any other racing game. To rectify this, I would recommend in any sequel that the rate at which you earn power play levels in multiplayer be double (or possibly even 2.5x) the rate at which you earn them in singleplayer. This would bring the insanity of singleplayer to multiplayer races and help further differentiate Split/Second from other racers.
Dodging explosive barrels in Survival mode.
Related to the previous point, the durability of racers in multiplayer should be reduced. In singleplayer, the level one power plays that involve explosives (which constitute the majority of level one power plays) are strong enough to wreck or at least throw off the AI opponents, but you are normally able to maintain enough control to avoid being wrecked when you are on the receiving end of the same power plays. In multiplayer all your opponents are human, and thus most of the level one power plays are rendered ineffective unless you can score a direct hit. This results in not many level one power plays being activated in multiplayer and most people instead saving up for the much more powerful level two power plays. This is where the previous problem of earning power play levels very slowly in multiplayer is compounded; you need to earn a stronger power play to have a good chance of wrecking an opponent, but because you earn them so slowly in multiplayer you’re hard pressed to get one before the race is over. The consequence of all this is an online racing experience that falls short of its potential. By making racers less durable, (or the effects of an explosive power play stronger) the usage of most level one power plays in multiplayer would become more effective and introduce a much greater element of risk/reward in driving tactics. For example, do I take a shorter route and drive right past a bus that another player might explode, or do I take an extra second to go wide and avoid it but give my opponents an extra second to catch up or pull way from me?
Part of the fun is discovering what you can destroy.
Another item that ties into the previous two (and is really just an expansion of the last paragraph) is that I would like to see the racing truck class be made a more competitive option. Split/Second’s cars are largely broken into three broad classes of vehicles: super cars, muscle cars and racing trucks. The whole point of the racing truck class is that while it is slightly slower than the other two classes, its vehicles are much stronger and can withstand more punishment from power plays. But as you’ve read above, the racing truck’s durability advantage is rendered nonexistent in multiplayer by the fact a human racer can withstand most level one power plays while using the other two (faster) classes. By reducing the durability of racers, (at least of the other two classes) as suggested above, the racing truck class could fulfill its intended role as the conservative racing option; sacrificing a bit of speed for security.
There are no kill-streaks or bonus points for wrecking multiple opponents, but it’s still very gratifying.
The last few items I would like to see in any sequel are easily the least important but would still be nice. The original Split/Second came with 11 courses and 6 modes, and you could get an additional two courses and three modes with DLC packs. I have no complaints for the number of courses and modes in the original Split/Second, but it would be good to increase the number of courses by two to four and add another mode or two in the sequel. Some courses, such as the airport or the canyon, I would be happy to see return in the sequel, though perhaps with some redesigns to keep them fresh. Also, it would be good to allow players to set the number of laps in Quick Play and multiplayer races. Each Split/Second course had a set number of laps (two or three) you go through in a race, depending on the length of the course. The system works fine overall, but there are times where I wish I could do one more lap to catch an opponent or activate a power play that I particularly like. Allowing players to set the number of laps completed in a race would add an extra bit of player control and enjoyment to the Split/Second experience. To avoid the situation where all power plays have been expended and you don’t have anything left to use on opponents, there would be an upper limit on the number of laps (say, four or five) but otherwise you could pick how long or short you wanted your race to be. My last suggestion would be for the addition of a boost system, which is a common feature of arcade racers but was missing in Split/Second. An easy way to incorporate it into a sequel would be for both the boost and power play systems to deplete the same meter, thus adding another layer of driving tactics. You would still fill the meter the same way as before, but if you wanted to give yourself a speed boost for a few seconds you could lose the ability to activate power plays, since your speed boost drained from the same meter you would use for power plays.
The explosion and flame effects are still good today.
With everything I’ve written about what I’d like changed in the sequel, you might think I wasn’t a big fan of Split/Second, but that it not the case. On my personal review scale I would give Split/Second something like a 8 out of 10. It is a good game on the cusp of being a great game. If it were to make a few adjustments we could have something truly legendary. If you’ve never tried it before I suggest at least seeing if you can rent it and then judge for yourself if it’s really the fun insanity that I make it out to be.
Escaping power plays unharmed will give you a small boost to your power play meter.
Will Split/Second ever get a sequel? Honestly, at this point I think only divine intervention could make that happen. Black Rock Studios, the company that made Split/Second was shuttered in 2011 and Disney Interactive Studios, the publisher of Split/Second, decided against funding a sequel due to low sales. The only way I could see a sequel happening would be for a developer and/or publisher to take a big gamble and acquire the rights to Split/Second. However, that is extremely improbable. The video games industry is one of the most conservative industries around, as seen by the general reluctance to invest in new IPs and instead stick with well-established franchises that everyone knows will sell well (such as Call of Duty, Halo, God of War, Mario, etc). For all intensive purposes, the odds of a sequel are effectively zero.

 

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