When follow staffer Kirby Y reviewed Split/Second for the Xbox 360 many moons ago, he was impressed. He scored Split Second an 8.6 as he praised its outstanding visuals and enjoyable arcade style racing experience. So needless to say, I was looking forward to giving the PSP version of the game a spin. While I haven’t had the opportunity to experience Split/Second on the Xbox 360, I was still very curious to see how an arcade style racer that has generated some buzz on next generation consoles would play out on Sony’s handheld machine. Well after some extended playtime with the game, I am also impressed and left with the impression that this might be the perfect little racer for gaming on the go this new year.
The game is obviously not on par with its next generation counterpart; however, what you do is get is good looking. Not to mention the framerate is much better than I anticipated. With all the explosions and carnage the races continue without so much a slight hiccup in the framerate. The lighting and smoke effects are also very good especially when you consider the limitations of the PSP’s hardware. In terms of the negatives, the courses have a tendency to look awfully similar to one another and the draw distance can be troublesome at times. Navigating through certain areas can be problematic as it is simply hard to see what is approaching at times. Otherwise, there is not much to complain about here as Split/Second for the PSP is above average in the visuals department.
Overall, Split/Second offers up a decent sound package. Granted you do not get the same big blasting sound effects you would in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound; however, the sound effects are over the top and perfectly suited for the game. Whether it be sliding corners to avoid explosions or speeding under wrecked cars flipping through the air, the game's sound effects are bang-on. The music can be a tad repetitive at times and the sound coming through the tiny PSP speakers can sound somewhat ‘tinny’ as well. Again this is likely due to the limitations of the PSP system. Nevertheless, Split/Second for the PSP is a good sounding game which will likely meet everyone’s expectations.
Unlike many arcade racers, Split/Second actually has a premise behind its madness. The game has you participating in a reality television show. As the contestant in a reality show, you compete against other drivers over the course of a TV episode season to determine who is the champion of the Split/Second. Although the game's premise is not told in the form of a story, you will get some neat presentation aspects that make you feel like you are indeed watching a TV series and you start to look forward to each new episode which unlocks new tracks. Bottom line — Split/Second offers a bit more originality than just racing through various tracks and challenges.
One thing gamers will quickly discover when playing Split/Second for the PSP is that the races are all about power plays. As you tackle some the various tracks (one exclusive to the PSP), you earn power by jumping, drifting, and drafting. Once you gain enough power, icons appear, indicating an opportunity to take down opponents by triggering a destructive event. For instance, by one press of a button a helicopter might drop metal pipes onto the course or boulders may break away from the side of a cliff. Bottom line — pulling off power plays is satisfying and creates destruction which gives the game that over-the top feeling. Yet at the end of the day it is not nearly as satisfying as it is on say the Xbox 360 version of the game. Again, I would blame the limitations of the PSP’s hardware but even on its own the impact of the power play destruction segments seems to lack a bit of punch.
Split/Second's PSP control mechanics are fairly decent but I did have some issues. I felt the controls were a tad sluggish and the sense of speed was not there. Turning corners can be troublesome at times as your car seems to easily start sliding and dragging around corners even at relatively slower speeds. The poor handling of the vehicles yielded slower response times and in a game where avoiding destructible objects is critical slower response reactions can cause a considerable amount of frustration. I feel the controls could have been tweaked a bit more so that gamers could get a better sense of speed and the handling of the vehicles could have been a bit tighter. That said, driving aspects of the game are relatively easy to pick up and the game does a nice job teaching you the ins and outs in the early going.
As far as the races themselves are concerned, they are enjoyable. This being said, some of the collision detection issues rear their ugly heads at times. You will notice damage to your vehicle at times resulting in your vehicle striking phantom objects not visible to you. Also some of the AI rubber band issues can be frustrating. If you fall behind in a race it can be incredibly difficult to catch up. Far too often I found myself re-starting races after quickly falling behind.
In addition to the game's core single player reality TV mode, Split/Second has a few more modes to offer. In Destruction mode you can target and destroy rival vehicles. In Survivor mode, you earn points by passing a series of semi-trucks as you circle around the course avoiding exploding barrels. In Air Revenge mode, you attempt to dodge missile strikes from above long enough to trigger a power play that re-directs the missiles back at the target. There are also a series of challenges that allow you to practice drifting, taking out opponents and drive with a semi-truck. Split/Second for the PSP also includes a four-player local multiplayer which unfortunately I didn’t spend too much time with considering none of my friends own the game. All in all, Split/Second for the PSP does offer a good amount of variety and re-play value.
Overall, Split/Second for the PSP is a decent arcade racer for gaming on the go. Sure it has its share of issues that include some sluggish controls, rubber-band and collision detection concerns. Yet there is plenty of bang for your buck and fans of the next generation version of the game should enjoy this scaled back version.