When you think of games from Disney, what probably comes to mind are the various spin-off titles from their franchises, such as movie tie-ins like Bolt or Hannah Montana. In recent years, Disney Interactive has become known for some rather interesting — and unexpected — titles. One good example of this is Pure, which was a surprisingly fun and easy-to-play racing title from Black Rock Studios. It wasn't the sort of title that usually comes to mind when one thinks of Disney, but it provided a fun experience for the entire family. Black Rock's newest game, Split/Second, is cut from a similar cloth, combining high-quality arcade racing and excellent graphics to form a racing game for the entire family. Split/Second isn't a follow-up to Pure and is actually quite a different game indeed.
Right off the bat, it's fairly obvious that Split/Second isn't a racing game that's worried about realism. The controls are simple and easy to pick up, and all you really need to know are where the gas pedal and brake are. It's the very definition of an arcade-style racing game, and even younger players should have no problems hopping in and driving their cars around the track. The game is built around Michael Bay-style carnage and mayhem, although always in a kid-friendly manner. It's all about driving at ludicrous speeds and seeing insane stunts and massive collisions, and the game never pretends to be anything but that. You see, Split/Second isn't actually set in a real city. It's set in a tremendous artificial city designed entirely for the purpose of being aired on live TV, and the entire city has been built to reflect that. As such, it's filled with tons of destructible objects, ramps, shortcuts and all sorts of bizarre illogical things that a regular city wouldn't hold. It's built to be an interesting place to race, not a realistic one.
Split/Second's biggest gimmick is the Powerplay. Each car in the game has a "Powerplay" bar, and you fill it up by performing tricks in the game world. There are three specific ways to fill it up. Drifting around corner not only allows you to turn faster, but it also earns you Powerplay energy. If you move in behind an opposing car, you'll enter its slipstream and "draft" behind it, boosting your speed and earning a Powerplay bonus. Finally, performing crazy jumps off ramps will earn you even more Powerplay energy to use. It's an interesting mechanic in that it rewards players for driving well and using the tricks of the trade, as opposed to a Mario Kart style of power-up, where players have to pick up items on the track. Powerplays are very well integrated into the basic gameplay, and you never feel like you're going out of your way in order to use them.
Powerplay energy is used for blowing things up. As mentioned above, the entire game is set in a giant fake city, designed as a set for a reality TV show. This means that the entire place is rigged with carefully placed explosives that can be remote-detonated by any of the cars on the track. Detonating these explosives is what Powerplay energy is used for, and it's simple to do. As you approach locations where a Powerplay can be activated, an icon will pop up to let you know the proper time to detonate it. Press the Powerplay button, and ka-boom!
There are a wide variety of potential Powerplay points, which are divided into two types: regular and super. A regular Powerplay is a small-scale explosion, which can be used to knock enemy cars out of the race, move a bus or gate blocking your path, or create a ramp to jump over an obstacle. A regular Powerplay only takes a segment of your Powerplay meter, so you can use it multiple times in a row. A super Powerplay, on the other hand, fundamentally changes the shape of the track on which you're racing. For example, a super Powerplay may cause a gigantic tower to fall over, crush any unfortunate racers underneath and blocking off the track, and force the race to go on another path. Another super Powerplay caused a highway overpass to collapse, which created a huge boosting jump onto the enclosed road below. However, a super Powerplay uses up the entire Powerplay bar, so only careful players will be able to access it.
The combination of arcade mechanics and the Powerplay system really makes the races a lot different from your usual video games. It's nearly impossible to grow complacent about the track in front of you. Even when you know where a Powerplay location is, you don't know when it will go off in front of you. The entire mechanic gives the game an almost Mario Kart-style feel, where you'll always be on the lookout for traps or ploys that the enemy is trying to use to crush you — and that you can use to crush them. Driving skill certainly plays a part in the game. Good drivers get more Powerplay, and talented players should even be able to avoid some of the traps and explosions, which is essential for staying ahead in the race. While careful Powerplay usage is the key to victory, it doesn't mean that all you have to do to win is set off explosion after explosion without forethought.Split/Second was one of the easier games to pick up during the show. There wasn't anything particularly complex or confusing, and it lent itself very well to arcade-style pick-up-and-play gaming. The Powerplay mechanic is extremely interesting, since it lends a surprising aura of strategy and resource conservation to what is otherwise a fairly straightforward arcade racer. Being able to set off explosions isn't only a boatload of fun, but it also encourages players to plan ahead and use their Powerplays wisely, lest they find themselves at the mercy of another racer. While it won't appeal to the gamers looking for a hyper-realistic driving simulation, Split/Second looks to be a solid title for any PS3 or 360 owner looking for Mario Kart-style arcade racing.
More articles about Split/Second