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Split/Second: Best. Reality Show. Ever.

Split/Second is probably the most creative racing game in years. It comes to us courtesy of our friends at Black Rock Studio. Does the studio name ring a bell? It should; these are the guys who brought us another critically acclaimed adrenaline fantasy, PURE. Don't confuse Split/Second for an ATV racer, though. This is street racing like you've never seen it before.

What do you get when you take the high-speed racing of Burnout and rig the tracks with explosives? You guessed it. This is no mere racing game, though. Split/Second's title actually references an in-game reality show. You are an active participant in that reality show. Now you understand why I think this is probably one of the most creative racing games in years.

Split/Second has a lot going for it, including accessible controls, easy-to-use mechanics, and possibly the cleanest heads-up display ever seen in a racing game. Anyone who's played a racing game should be able to jump right in. The control scheme doesn't make use of too much, because it doesn't need all that much to begin with. Split/Second's signature mechanic (which I'll explain shortly) is mapped to a single button. The entire H.U.D. is actually superimposed onto your vehicle.

Races in Split/Second are won by clever use of the environment. As I mentioned earlier, each track is rigged to blow. You have direct control of what happens to certain parts of the environment... sometimes. A tri-segmented power meter rests underneath your vehicle. By drafting, drifting, and jumping, you earn power. When you fill one or two segments of your power meter, you gain the ability to execute a Power Play. This mechanic triggers some impressive (and deadly) destruction moments. Level 1 Power Plays use up one segment of your power meter, but Level 2 Power Plays require a full bar.

A demo of Split/Second recently found its way to both Xbox Live Marketplace and PlayStation Network, and it offers a potent taste of what's to come. The demo consists of a single race around an airport. There are loads of environmental hazards on the track, including but not limited to: a gas station, a parking garage, a helicopter towing an explosive barrel, and an Airport Traffic Control Tower. If you time your Power Plays correctly, you can detonate the gas station, turn a series of parked cars into a wall of flame, cause the helicopter to drop its cargo, or cause the control tower to crash violently to the ground. What's interesting about the ATCT explosion is that it drastically alters the layout of the course and forces everyone to take a different route.

What gives me hope for Split/Second's multiplayer component is the fact that the Power Play system can't be abused. The racer in first place cannot trigger any Power Plays, because there's nobody to attack. Also, if you're in dead last and have no chance of ever catching up, it doesn't matter; Power Plays are not supposed to reward failure. If nobody's in range, you can't blow anything up.

May 18 is shaping up to be quite a legendary day for video games. If you consider yourself a hardcore gamer, you're likely anticipating at least one or two of the games coming out that day. If you consider yourself a fan of racing games, you shouldn't only be anticipating Red Dead Redemption or Alan Wake. Give the demo a whirl, and I'm sure it will sell you as sure as it's sold me. Our full review of Split/Second will ignite at the end of the month.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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