PAX impressions / Split/Second

Will it be the next generation of the Burnout series or some FlatOut style ripoff? The debut trailer (below) promised a lot and delivered on visuals but it’s not until you’ve held the game in your hands that you start to really feel how good this can be.

For those who don’t know, Split/Second is a racing game with a kicker. Every time the player drafts or slides or jumps they accrue points which feed into the powerplay meter. The meter is divided into 3 sections, the first 2 are blue while the last is red. Scattered about the track you’ll find different objects and even other vehicles highlighted in either red or blue auras which can be activated if the player’s powerplay meter is full enough. What comes next is absolute bliss.

Say there’s a tower in the distance with a huge satellite dish on top that is glowing red. The powerplay meter is full so the driver decided to activate the awesome. Instantly the tower erupts in explosions, causing the whole structure to collapse and hurling the satellite dish end over end toward the race track. The build we were able to get our hands on didn’t yet have all the physics-based powerplays in place but in the final game these rolling barrels and run-away scaffolds will interact dynamically with the driver. This means, were the driver to clip a spinning satellite disk just right he could alter its trajectory and potentially flip it onto a rival’s hood.

The smaller blue powerplays are less game altering but much more practical and usually resettable. Helicopters hover over the track and drop explosive barrels on cue. Buses parked adjacent to the track wiill erupt in flame and flip over the barriers onto the track. All together there are 3 different varieties of powerplay. There’s the practical, like opening a shortcut or, conversely, closing one behind you. The resettable, like the endless barrels being thrown from local aircraft, can be used endlessly and in succession. The last variety is the epic type and not all of these are triggerable by the player. Events like careening aircraft and exploding dams will happen whether the players want it to or not. Other epic powerplays, such as collapsing an airplane terminal, are sequential. If you blow up every level of the track with red powerplays you can essentially re-write the course.

The level available was the same featured in the debut trailer, an abandoned Airport. Several concerns, such as the lack of a map or the fear that the driving would take a back seat to the pyrotechnics, were quickly banished as I rounded the first turns and detonated my first barricades. The cars are just as over-the-top and flashy as the action and crashing is kept fun by not being a game-ender. My first time around the track I must have crashed 20 times and I still finished in second place. It was like playing the most sublime mix of Mario Kart and Gran Turismo with just a pinch of Burnout for flavor. Decide for yourself when Split/Second skids onto shelves early next year for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.