Thunderbolt logo

PAX ’09 – Split/Second

PAX 2009

This is why you shouldn’t give reality show directors more money. Or maybe you should, it depends on if you like explosions, fast cars, and more explosions. Actually, that kinda sealed it for me, I’ll be off to watch more Big Brother as soon as I tell you about Split/Second.

Split/Second is what happens when reality shows, Hollywood demolition, and racing collide. A director is given a limitless budget, and he buys the only sensible thing with it: fast cars and high explosives. You are one of the lucky stunt drivers chosen by this madman to race through the flames and debris that are all that remain by the third lap, dodging falling bridges and flying wreckage the whole way.


Not only are all the courses in Split/Second rigged to blow, the detonation triggers are in the drivers’ hands, activated by stunts performed while racing. The more you drift, the farther you jump, and the better you perform, the faster your demolition gauge will fill up. At each third, when a warning flashes onscreen, hidden charges or bombs dropped from below can be unleashed on your opponents. Don’t forget, however, they’ve got the same triggers at their disposal, and they’re more than willing to rain fiery death down on your vehicle or lift it into the air on a pillar of flame.

Perhaps more interesting than the pyrotechnics war, though, is the fact that the very course of the race can be drastically altered while you zip through it if you raise your demolition meter high enough. While I sped down the tarmac of a large airport, a trigger appeared over the nearby air control tower, and hitting the detonator caused the entire structure to come tumbling down, forcing everyone to circumnavigate it, as well as bringing down a passenger jet on top of us the next lap around. You know what they say, with enough explosives you can change the world. You can even change it multiple times, with each course having numerous variations depending upon what you blow up.

Speaking of the meter, it and the rest of Split/Second‘s interface are very minimalist, displayed as glowing numbers and bars trailing the bumper of your car. It’s all very neat and tidy (in contrast to the chaos of your surroundings) and keeps the screen clear for you to appreciate just how many things are blowing up and crashing down around you. The whole game has a very frantic, riding the edge of the knife feel, so all that visibility is a good thing, helping you keep from getting clobbered by blocks of falling concrete.


Split/Second is very reminiscent of the Burnout series, and anyone who’s played Burnout should enjoy this greatly. Burnout fans may be disappointed to note that Split/Second‘s damage modeling isn’t quite as advanced, but the destructibility of the courses more than makes up for it. In addition, the takedowns in Split/Second somehow feel more … satisfying. There’s something beautiful about dropping a bomb onto your opponent from a helicopter or crushing them under an entire bridge that you just don’t get from gently nudging them into a wall.

In short, this is a man’s racing game. Fast cars, lots of explosions, and a general disdain for reality or any sense of good taste. But then, what do we love Hollywood for if not that?

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2007.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.