Just finished my first race on the newly released demo for Split/Second. I don’t like the taste. On paper, this game is so very promising for the action fan. Basically, you are racing through action movie set pieces that are setup for ridiculous stunts (explosions, bridge destructions, buildings falling onto the track) straight out of a Michael Bay flick. You (and your opponents) control the triggers for the staged effects, and earn the right to trigger these effects by driving dangerously (a la’ Burnout) to fill your “Power Play” gauge.
Even from the one stage available in the demo you can tell that a lot of ingenuity went into planning out each and every stage. The game looks pretty good and reminds me again of Burnout Paradise in it’s visual style during the race, and the sound effects fit right in. Black Rock Studio has done a lot exceptionally well.
My main issue is that there’s a disconnect when triggering the Power Plays. I’m sure over time, you will get to know each stage and what each trigger is going to do, when you are coming up on it, and how to damage your opponents, etc, but that’s going to take some time. I’m just not sure I will be as thrilled by the effects on my 20th trip around a stage that I’ve finally memorized. Sure it could be fun to wreck your friends, but in my experience, you are either way behind or way ahead of your friend’s level of knowledge of a game like this. One of you is going to feel that the other one is being cheap when you drive into a trap.
The presentation was a lot more polished than I expected. It has an action movie vibe to it that comes across really well. The other side to this though, is it pulled me out of the drama of the racing. Since everything feels so staged on the track, I had no sense of thrill while driving, it was very methodical and strategic. I like my racing fast, chaotic, and to the point where I could lose control at any moment and drop to last place. Instead, I felt cheated by random explosions, and that I had no control over the Power Plays since I had no clue what was about to happen when I hit the trigger. Somehow, I still managed to break my racing game pet peeve, and I won the first race that I tried.
Prediction: They are definitely going to have to build out more of a rewards based system in the multiplayer to drive any long term interest in this game, until then it looks like a rental or bargain bin pickup just to see the sites (and explosions).
The game will be released on May 18 on for Xbox 360, PC, and PS3. The demo is out from now till May 11th for the Xbox 360, and will be available to PS3 users on May 21st.