Review: Split/Second (PSP)

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Last spring Disney Interactive released Split/Second on PC and consoles, a thrilling arcade racer that got top-notch reviews for providing tense racing action and an overall great experience. The game has since been ported over to the PSP, so let’s see how it plays!

Split/Second joins a pretty crowded field of top-notch PSP racing games such as the Gran Turismo, Need For Speed, Burnout, WipeOut, Ridge Racer, Outrun, and other franchises. These games paint a wide swath of styles from simulations to arcade racers to destruction derbies and pretty much everything in between.

Therefore Split/Second needs to be something special to attract attention and warrant a purchase … alas, it is not.

Split/Second is a fictional reality TV show where you score points by winning races … using any means possible! You can trigger explosions or large scale destruction to trip up opponents in order to win prizes or money and advance on to face even tougher opponents.

In terms of graphics and sound, I really have no idea what happened. I played the PC game after grabbing it on Direct2Drive during a recent sale, and it looked and played fantastic – crisp details on vehicles and environments as you raced around, with tons of great effects to match all of the explosions.

The PSP version naturally had to pick and choose where to cut back to fit the hardware, but while some of the environments look great, all of the cars look terrible, and everything else is a mixed bag. There is no unified sense of presentation, just a sort of haphazard mix of gorgeous and ugly stuff.

Worse still, in spite of compromised graphics, the game occasionally lags and stutters, sometimes resulting in a random and unpredictable explosion. But more on those later!

I could easily forgive the graphics if that was the only issue – I mean, it isn’t the worst looking PSP game, just inconsistent enough to be frustratingly noticeable.

But the gameplay is actually worse. Racing games live and die on a single thing – steering. Steering on the open road, through turns, jumps and into drifting and so on. How bad are things? Well, I know this is an arcade racer, but you can actually steer the car during a jump. I’m not talking about subtle corrections, but actually steering as if the car responded that way!

Reality aside, the steering is unpredictable, the drifting is flaky, and overall there is a lack of predictable responsiveness in the vehicles. Actually “unpredictable” is a good word for the game, since you can never be exactly sure what will cause you to blow up.

Thus far I have made Split/Second sound awful – but it really isn’t. So let me balance things out a bit: while the visuals are inconsistent, they are often gorgeous, and the over-the-top explosions NEVER get old! Speaking of which, the mayhem you wreak around the track has a lasting impact on the race as you have to steer around the debris and wrecks and other obstacles.

Finally, rather than just a static track, your various ‘laps’ will evolve over the course of the race as things are adapted to the destruction! All of that chaos makes Split/Second occasionally quite a bit of fun.

But ultimately the technical issues in terms of graphics, performance, and erratic handling bog this game down way too much for any amount of maniacal explosiveness to rescue. This is one of those games that would be a good deal for ~$5-10, where you could forgive the issues I described here. If you see it for more than $10, pass it by for now.

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Pros:
+ Blow stuff up with massive destruction
+ Evolving races based on destruction

Cons:
– Erratic performance
– Inconsistent visuals
– Unpredictable controls

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSP, also available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360
Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Black Rock Studio
Release Date: 11/16/2010
Genre: Racing
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4 (ad hoc only)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!