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Split/Second - first look

Last year Disney Interactive Studios released a surprise critical hit with Pure, a stunt-based racing game from Black Rock Studios. Now merely half a year since that title's release, the developer has put the pedal to the floor to show us the first live demo of Split Second, their latest attempt to reinvigorate the racing genre.

Most people who played Pure loved its mix of fancy tricks, high speed, and ridiculous track layouts, but its focus on offroad and ATVs likely scared some gamers off. Black Rock hopes to appeal to a much wider audience this time around by offering more traditional vehicles and varied settings. The race we were shown takes place at an airport that's overflowing with objects begging to be blown up.

Oh, and that's the other thing that sets Split Second apart: You're going to be causing a crazy amount of devastation on these tracks. In story terms, you're a driver in a new reality TV show named "Split Second" which pits drivers against each other in veritable death races. The single-player campaign covers a whole season of the show with each race serving as a single episode. Expect each track to be introduced with the fast, flashy cuts and dramatic music you've come to love (or be sickened by) from hours of reality television.

Once you actually get into the race, you'll discover that Black Rock has stripped the act of driving down to its absolute basics: left trigger is your gas, right trigger is your brake, and you steer with the left stick. Even the HUD has been stripped down, with points, position, and other vital information appearing on the back of your car so the glorious havoc you rain down is easier to view.

Drifting, drafting, pulling off high jumps, and narrowly avoiding catastrophe will award you with power that collects in a meter displayed on the back of your car. The meter is split into three sections -- two blue bars followed by a red bar. As you fill each bar and blaze down the track, you'll drive past certain objects that will be highlighted in blue or red. A blue object can be activated by tapping a button on the controller when you have at least one blue bar full, but if you want the biggest explosions possible you'll want to save up for the red, which Black Rock is calling "super powers."

Red or blue, all of the examples we saw of the powers were extremely satisfying to watch. One blue power sent a monorail crashing into a parking structure which then blew up, taking a rival racer out with it. A red power up destroyed the airport terminal altogether and knocked several opponents off course. One of the AI-controlled cars fought back by activating his own power, bringing down an air control tower which then sent a flaming plane crashing into the ground.

Not enough adrenaline for you? Some super powers also act as "route changers," taking out bridges or forging new paths that affect how you'll get through subsequent laps in a race. Add in that some of the powers will be randomized, making new playthroughs of each track necessary to see everything, and you've got constantly-shifting levels that should keep racers on their toes long past their first lap.

Black Rock lays out their mission statement for Split Second as follows: Where so many action games have attempted to implement racing segments into that genre, they want to bring action into the racing genre. They call it "a summer blockbuster" (despite its planned early 2010 release date) and make references to Michael Bay films. It's impossible to know if Split Second will get Black Rock and Disney the widespread acceptance they're looking for, but between the constant chain of explosions, the promise of a fully-fleshed out multiplayer mode, and pedigree of quality from the studio, they've certainly got our attention.

Mar 26, 2009