Hands-on: Split/Second

"Split/Second is like Burnout, except the world around you is the thing that gets smashed into bits." - Joystiq's E3 preview

I had the fortune of spending about an hour with Black Rock's upcoming, destruction-laden Split/Second, and, like Xav before me, I had a total blast (sorry about the pun, folks). The idea of using the environment as a weapon is a novel twist, keeping racers on their toes throughout the entire race. Stay vigilant, or else a helicopter might just drop an explosive on top of you. (That actually happened to me, folks.)

While I was equally impressed by the much-touted dynamic environments of the racer, having so much time with the game let me appreciate some of the finer nuances of the gameplay. I only had three vehicles to choose from, but each controlled differently and highlighted the various strategies players could employ during races. I was most skilled with the lightweight car, thanks to its maneuverability and speedy acceleration. The handling was a bit loose, especially when drifting -- but that proves to be an advantage, as I found myself able to build up my power meter with relative ease.

By drifting, you'll be able to fill up the "powerplay" meter at the bottom of your car. It only takes one tier to trigger the smaller explosions in the games, but to pull of a devastating route changer, you'll need to fill up the meter all the way. Considering my penchant for destruction, my strategy is usually to save up for the big moments: Who doesn't like seeing a building collapse to create a new route for your car?

Arguably, the lightweight car is the most offense-oriented vehicle in the game. Because it drifts so easily, it earns powerplays rather rapidly. However, it's almost the most affected by powerplays. Cars aren't simply destroyed by their proximity to an explosion. Detonations also create shockwaves, which will affect the handling of any vehicle caught in its radius. The lightweight cars are most vulnerable to these shockwaves, meaning you'll will have to be smart enough about using powerplays ... without getting caught in the trap you set off.

On the flip side, the heavy truck is the most defense-oriented vehicle in the game. With slow acceleration, it's actually very difficult to take the pole position through sheer racing skill. However, it takes a lot of destruction to stop the truck. I carelessly drove through an explosion, only to come out completely unaffected. That's not to say the truck is invincible: a direct attack (like the aforementioned helicopter explosion) will total your car. Success with the truck relies even more so on intimate knowledge of the track, knowing where the best traps are, and utilizing them whilst your opponents get destroyed.

Black Rock has taken advantage of the stark differences between the vehicles to create interesting modes tailored to each. Because the truck is almost impervious, a time trial requiring the truck features a track laden with explosions. To succeed, players will not only need to choose the best line, but also take risky routes, cutting close -- but not too close -- to a blast radius, to shave off precious seconds of time off the clock. Yes, it means hardcore players will need to memorize the layout of these maps, but that's typical of the genre.

Split/Second ran at a very steady framerate, even in the early build I was playing. Considering the sheer amount of destruction that fills the screen, it's hard not to be impressed. It may not be the fastest feeling racer around, but it certainly earns its namesake through the split second decisions you'll have to make when caught in the game's many powerplays.

Black Rock promised (but didn't show) a split screen multiplayer mode, a feature that has seemingly disappeared from most current-gen racers. Admittedly, the two-player mode will feature scaled down graphics, with a reduced draw distance. It's definitely a feature we want to check out, hopefully before Split/Second ships to stores this May.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.