Hands-on at E3 / Split/Second

If E3 was swallowed up in a hole of biblical proportions today, I honestly wouldn’t be upset (except for the part where I don’t exist anymore) because I may have already experienced the best game of the show: Split/Second. Split/Second is the new racing game from Black Rock Studio, developers of the much-loved-little-bought Pure, that makes the vroom-vroom genre ‘splode in all kinds of gloriousness that can’t be measured with modern tools.

Split/Second is without a doubt the most insane and intense car racing game I have ever played. On the surface it’s a pretty basic racer wherein the #1 spot is the drive (no pun), however, there’s a twist: the action is part of a reality TV show. Doesn’t sound amazing in text form, but this simple idea opens up a whole new world (a new, fantastic point of view) and introduces the key mechanic to the gameplay.

Pulling off stunt jumps, drifting and drafting (staying in an opponent’s slipstream) fills a power play meter which, when activated via button press at certain track points, allows parts of the environment to be affected in ways such as giant, rubble throwing explosions that can knock the other drivers off course or yourself if unlucky. If the “power play meter” is filled completely to the red it’s basically armageddon opening up triggers of a much larger scale like an airfield tower crashing down on unsuspecting opponents, deforming the track and opening up a new driving route, or the normal, everyday, “Hey, I’m driving along and WHY IS THERE AN AIRLINER COMING AT MY FACE?!” I experienced all of these events and they were truly amazing.

Thankfully, the power plays aren’t just a gimmick; the racing itself is fun on its own, falling in a happy balance between arcade and simulation handling. The cars also have a real weight to them and there’s an actual sense of force with the controller in-hand, especially so when an explosion goes off a little too close for comfort and you have to compensate the handling — it really feels like you’re behind the wheel of danger. Something else the game does that’s really pretty genius is all the information on rank position, stunt points and the power play meter float on the car’s bumper, allowing your eyes to stay on the action rather than looking all about the screen for how everything’s unfolding.

The only downside to Split/Second is it’s still far off, not shipping until February 2010. As it stands right now the game is absolutely gorgeous looking with some fantastic lighting, particle effects and oh lawdy, the explosions! Time machine want!