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Split/Second 360 fuels adrenaline with overblown destruction. More impressive is its simplicity - layer upon layer of great game design create a game that is fun, well paced and incredibly addictive. Not only that but an experience a could fit in around family life.
There is a moment in many game's life where new ideas haven't yet outstripped complexity. Before the drive for sequels cram in ever more features and nuanced to the basic fresh idea is the perfect moment for me to enjoy it. I don't have the time or will to get the most out of more complex games so I like to look out for these first blush outings of new ideas.
Split/Second is uncluttered with complexity, easy to understand and quick to play. I've not had so much fun with a driving game since Burnout 2 on my Gamecube - before that got too clever for its boots.
The premise is simple, as you race you fill a meter that lets you trigger events ahead of you in the track - Power plays. These events may be as tame as a helicopter dropping an exploding barrel, or as outlandish as massive cooling towers collapsing on the road a create a new route, or opening a useful shortcut.
As the cars ahead of you pass through trigger points an icon appears above them, press a button and the event they are near is triggered. To really nail them though you need to have a good idea of the track and which event they are near. You have to time it just right to knock them out.
There is a moment in many game's life where new ideas haven't yet outstripped complexity.
It injects the sort of show on offer in action games right into the heart of the racing. Watching me race, my other half asked whether it was me driving of if this was just the cut-scene. "It looks more like an action film than a racing game doesn't it" she said "it's even better to watch than that Burndown game".
She of course was referring to Burnout, and it is true that Split/Second matches Burnout's appetite for destruction. But more than this for me, it is still in its youthful exuberant stage where things haven't got too complicated. With less distractions and fewer ways to win this is still about racing - a good line, learning the track and a light touch on the drift.
When I start to play I instinctively try to attack other cars directly with my ride, but here that has little effect. I also notice a slight over sensitivity to some kinds of collision. And it takes a while to accept that I have to follow the prescribed circuit rather than engineer the shortest routes.
But these things lacking actually make for a more focused game. As I mentioned, the singular focus on racing and track destruction has me locked in for my first session for a good few hours - a real rarity for me these days with time being so scarce. I'm transported back to my first play of Burnout 2. Like then, I'm enraptured by the introduction of one mechanic. Back then it was crashing, here it is destruction.
Turns the game almost into a shooter as you dodge bullets and propel yourself forwards looking to trigger an airborne Powerplay on your attacker.
All this is paced well. Loading times are thankfully short, and a restarted race begins immediately. The experience is couched in season's which give the game a predictable structure. These take-in straight races, elimination events and more unusual survivial events - where you have to pass trucks or helicopters throwing explosives at you. This last mode turns the game almost into a shooter as you dodge bullets and propel yourself forwards looking to trigger an airborne Powerplay on your attacker.
Finishing a season (which takes around 30 minutes) grants a moment to pause and possibly leave the game until the next session - although in practice, the lure of new tracks and cars was enough to keep me playing.
I don't often talk about graphics and sound - there are so many other reviews that cover these angles - but here it make a big difference to the game. There were many times the game made me smile because it impressed so much. It does a great job of building tension through the season so that you get to the elite races at the end and with fireworks and commentary your adrenaline is already pumping before you have even started racing.
Split/Second creates an experience that not only reminds me how much I enjoyed the older Burnout games, but then improves on that formula.
It's a shame there is only two player split screen here, but with Bunrout Paradise not even offering this it is hard to complain. You can race online with eight others, but nothing matches the intensity of local multiplayer - only offered these days by Motorstorm Pacific Rift, Blur and Mario Kart.
With Burnout dominating the explosive arcade racing genre, it's impressive that Split/Second is so convincing. Even while writing the review I've had to avoid the Burnout nomenclature of Takedowns, Boost and Near-misses. Dispute all that, Split/Second creates an experience that not only reminds me how much I enjoyed the older Burnout games, but then improves on that formula with some new words of its own - Destruction Events, Draft and Power Plays.
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