In your initial moments with Split/Second, you can’t help but feel that sneaking sensation of déjà vu. This hits you right around the time that you narrowly escape your first “power play.” All this weaving in and out of traffic and narrowly escaping collisions makes the game initially feel like a Burnout clone. A well-produced Burnout clone with breathtaking graphics and tight controls, but a Burnout clone never the less. Initially, then, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed by Black Rock Studio’s effort with Split/Second. Yet that is right around the time you decide to succumb to your destructive curiosity and trigger a “power play” with a full meter. As something resembling the Seattle Space Needle begins to crash down on the track, destroying not only the majority of your competition, but deforming the track in ways you thought could not be possible in a video game, you begin to realize that you should not write off this game as another Burnout clone just yet.
It is in these moments of pure deconstructive bliss that not only separate Split/Second from the traditional Burnout formula, but evolve it in completely different directions. Much like how Beethoven used Mozart as inspiration for many years to create something both different and equally memorable, Black Rock Studio has in fact done the same taking Criterion’s work with the Burnout games and expanding it in new ways with Split/Second. This major deviation between the two games comes from their approaches to destruction.
In Burnout, the crux of the game revolves around you trying to make your opponents crash into the environment which in turn gives you more boost which makes you go faster, helping you eventually win the race. Split/Second tweaks this formula in new and interesting ways. In Split/Second, by performing well in the race (power sliding and landing big jumps) your “power play” meter rises, which lets you set up instances in which you can trigger the environment to crash into your opponents, momentarily eliminating them from the race. While this difference may seem inconsequential in the art of blowing things up, Split/Second does a good job of presenting a different take on the Burnout blueprint.
In terms of presentation, Split/Second trumps the Burnout series in many aspects. One is the raw graphical splendor in which the game presents itself. The game is absolutely gorgeous from the various explosions that happen during a race to how motion blur occurs as your car hurdles through the race track in breakneck speeds. The graphical majesty of the game is amplified by the lack of a HUD system throughout the game. By using the minimalism approach of placing all vital information below the bumper of your car, it focuses the player’s attention on what is going on in the environment (which can be crucial for his or her success in a race). Another way Split/Second’s presentation enhances the overall experience of the game is through the motif of a reality TV series. In the single-player mode, all of the traditional racing tiers are broken up into episodes in a season of the Split/Second TV series. And yes, while it is true that the reality TV premise might only be cosmetic in nature, it does go a long way in giving the game some personality, in which all driving games could use more of.
As for the style of gameplay that Split/Second showcases, it tends to play more like an arcade racer than anything else. While the recent Burnout Paradise went for an open-world playground feel, Split/Second’s “pick up and play” style, with modes like “Air Attack” and “Survival,” manages to invoke gameplay similar to the arcade cabinet racers of the mid-’90s. Because of this, Split/Second fills this arcade-style niche in ways Burnout Paradise could not by embracing its new open-world interface.
In the end, Split/Second does more than enough to separate itself from the Burnout series. While there are definite instances in which the game does give you flashbacks of playing Burnout, its overall concept of using the environment against your competitors makes Split/Second stand on its own accord—at times even beating Burnout at its own game. If you like arcade racers, you are doing yourself a disservice in not taking a look at Split/Second.