Graveyard: Split/Second

Watch your step, for you’ve just entered the Graveyard. Inside, we’ll be digging up games that have long been without a pulse. You’ll see both good and bad souls unearthed every month as we search through the more… forgotten…parts of history.

Last year, we covered Black Rock Studios’ debut game PURE in our graveyard, and this year, we’re going to cover their final game Split/Second. There’s no better time to do it as Apple Arcade will be adding a game soon called Detonation Racing that is heavily-inspired by Split/Second — and with good reason. It’s one of the most enjoyable racing experiences of the past fifteen years and makes use of a unique premise in both its story and execution to provide a white-knuckle thrill ride on every lap. Black Rock released two whole games under that name, but they’re some of the greatest racing experiences anyone could ask for — and in two different sub-genres of racing as well.

The concept of Split/Second is that it’s a racing competition within the framework of an extreme reality show where racers set off explosions throughout the racing route — and as the concept implies, it’s perfect for an action-heavy racing game. The goal is still to come in first via traditional races against rivals or in time trial events, but it’s now all about garnering a big following via massive ratings and the better you do, the more popular you are, so it keeps the traditional goal of getting a high-ranking finish and puts a slightly different spin on it.

The blend of racing vehicle types is also something that helps Split/Second stand out to this day because the player isn’t just limited to cars — but has access to trucks and SUVs as well. With this being an explosion and danger-filled racing  game, speed is important to avoid crashes and come in first — but one also has to consider being able to absorb the impact of several attacks within the span of a single race. Going with a big truck may allow enemies to beat you up more, but it can make winning the race tougher since it’s harder to get out of the way of faster-moving obstacles.

If an enemy sets off a wrecking ball to send rivals flying, a smaller vehicle is a leaner target and tougher to hit, but will be taken out by even a glancing shot. A truck will endure less damage and may be able to avoid being knocked out by a glancing shot, but will be able to endure more direct hits over the course of a race. It will be tougher to move that vehicle around, however, so it becomes a trade-off. As someone used to regular racing games and how cars handle better than SVs and large trucks, cars are my go-to since it’s easier to evade with a car in this game than it is to fully navigate the tracks with a mix of speed and ease with larger vehicles.

This is especially true when using shortcuts, which you can either trigger just like any other track hazard with or make use of a foe activating it and allowing others to follow suit briefly. The track design is fantastic because the perilous things that can happen — like wrecking balls or gas stations being blown up all make sense within the area and unlike a lot of racing games, an attempt is made to look like everything is part of a larger real-world area. It’s an underrated part of making the events in the game have more significance, but the world-building done in the game is impressive.

The level of destruction mid-race remains the best ever with games like Motorstorm Apocalypse trying to come close, but not matching the same level of carnage. There’s nothing quite like going neck and neck down a straightaway and getting ahead on a turn like you would in a normal racing game and getting that thrill and then right after having an explosion rock the screen in a way that is jarring — but in a logical way for the player. The screen gets knocked wonky for a second, but it isn’t something that on its own will lead to a crash on your part since the driving area is always visible and clear enough to see where you are in relation to it. It’s the perfect way to execute it since the severity of the impact is still there, but the player experience is maintained nicely.

Visually, Split/Second has held up nicely over the past decade — shockingly well in fact. The fast pace never results in frame drops and the detail level for vehicles and the environments as they both get destroyed in real-time is high. It’s a spectacle racer, but an effective one and its sound design is top-shelf too. Having cars all around while explosions blare sells just how much mayhem is going on. It shines with either a nice soundbar or a good sound system as you can get a better idea where enemies are, but also hear the clank of the metal and enjoy the sound of glass smashing all around.

Split/Second was a gem in its time, but due to nothing else following it up on consoles at least, it truly feels like a once in a lifetime kind of experience for action-racing games. It plays like a dream and thanks to it being compatible on the Xbox One and now Xbox Series consoles, Xbox users can continue to enjoy the game for many years to come. Hopefully since Disney clearly still has the publishing rights, we’ll see it get a modern-day remaster with higher-grade assets or a Switch port to enjoy it anywhere. It’s an amazing game a decade into its life and deserves another chance to succeed.