The fatness of Split/Second‘s cars perfectly captures the spirit of the game. Bright, colourful and ridiculously wide, they are quick to slam into anything that dares to get in their way, growling all the time like caffeinated angry tigers. At the risk of actually creating a genre, this is a determinedly Michael Bay racing game full of sparks and popcorn, a plump hog that has eaten the extra American fat and wants to drag you along screaming behind it.
So what does a Michael Bay game absolutely need?
Set as a high-octane TV entertainment show, Split/Second embraces the theme and reflects it in its very design – menus, voiceover, music all fitting into the brash quick-cut style. The visual palette is a wonderfully tactile mix of chunky overpasses and blazing lens flare, frame rate throwing everything around at an extremely impressive rate. So far, so Burnout. However, there’s an element that developers Black Rock introduce to further elevate the gameplay. As you hurtle around the tracks, your feats of death-defying driving slowly earn you credits that collect into one, two or three waiting panels. These can be converted into ordered destruction of the track surroundings. Each triggered piece of destruction affects the layout in some way, from dropping a train crossing to the slamming down of a whole tower. Any cars caught in this maelstrom are destroyed and have to fight back to regain their position, adding a layer of blunt strategy to consider at 150mph.
One bar sets off a roadside blast or drops a fuel drum from a waiting helicopter. Two, a huge mid-track explosion that levels anything unlucky enough to be caught near it. Three, the world falls apart with such force that a large portion of the track permanently changes. It’s a stunning show of technical strength that would not have been possible in the generation before, a level of destructive detail beautiful in its showy confidence. The problem is, the location of these booming hammer blows are firmly prescribed so that they all too quickly lose their ability to shock. Though they are designed to keep the track layout fresh and unpredictable, the fact that they always make the same changes just means the duel possibilities soon become easy to memorise. However, until that moment, the visual treat is deep and intense.
Split/Second was ultimately a victim of timing, its release near the similarly-marketed Blur damaging for both games. In the end, publishers Disney closed down Black Rock and the preproduction on a sequel was halted. It’s a shame, as there was real potential for something very special to grow out of the idea, a thought that never truly leaves your mind when you occasionally fire it up and lose yourself once more in the flames and flare. Just like any good Michael Bay production, sometimes it’s cleansing to just close your brain and consume the visual popcorn.