Things explode in Split/Second. Bridges blow up and collapse, huge tankers slip from their moorings and slide into the nearby sea, and helicopters blow apart into a million shards of metal and glass. And while all of this mayhem happens in a fictionalized reality television setting in the game's single-player experience, you can harness this mayhem to your advantage in Split/Second's eight-player multiplayer action. After all, sending a jumbo jet crashing to earth is fun enough by yourself; crashing it into your friends and ruining their race? Well, that's just priceless.
At a press event in San Francisco this evening, Disney showed off two multiplayer events in the game: Survival mode and standard races. Both are quite similar to their single-player counterparts, but the addition of real drivers to the events seems to raise the stakes a bit. In Survival mode, your goal is to end the race with the most points--you earn those points by passing 18-wheeler trucks. If you pass multiple trucks in a row without crashing, you'll earn a combo modifier. The complication here has to do with the color-coded exploding barrels that are falling off the trucks as they wildly slide around the track; blue barrels will knock you off course and red barrels will destroy your car completely. Survival mode matches last for three minutes with a 30-second sudden death period tacked onto the end of a race--which gives you a last desperate sprint to earn additional points. However, if you die in a sudden death, your car will not respawn.
Survival mode is a nice change of pace, but apart from the copious exploding barrels, there's not a lot of the mayhem you've come to expect from the game in this mode--there's no exploding scenery and no power plays...you know, the stuff you want from Split/Second. The real action for Split/Second's multiplayer is with the races themselves. Here, so many factors matter: the class of car you choose (the speedy sports cars, the strong and stable trucks, or the balanced muscle cars), the path you choose through the game's ever-evolving levels, and, of course, the all-important power plays you use.
You earn power plays by pulling off fancy moves on the track--drifting, drafting, jumping, and so on. If you have enough power play juice, you can execute an on-track event by pressing the A or X buttons (on the Xbox 360 controller). A typical power play moment usually involves something blowing up on one side of the road or the other; it's usually enough to knock an opponent's car sideways, slowing it down, but not necessarily stopping it completely. A massive power play, executed with the B button once the meter is filled, can completely change the outcome of a race. These are the events in Split/Second that you paid your hard-earned money to sea--huge oil tankers crashing down on top of you; driving through the middle of smoky tunnels while industrial equipment swings through the air, promising to take you out at the slightest mistake; airport control towers shattering and crumbling to the ground.
In addition to unleashing periodic chaos, power plays can occasionally open up new paths for you to take. When a red or blue arrow pops up on the screen, you can initiate a power play to take a previously unavailable shortcut that can save you a few seconds or more on your lap time. Timing shortcuts is important in races--it's very satisfying to open up a shortcut at the last possible moment and essentially screw your opponent of the opportunity.
In between multiplayer races, you'll be able to compare yourself to your opponents in a number of ways. You earn credits depending on the position you finished in for the previous race; think of them as simply championship points for your online session. There's also a racing number, which is essentially an overall ranking that gauges your skill--the better you drive, the lower your number will be (with number one being the best rank of all). Split/Second developers told us that you can improve your ranking even if you aren't winning races. Finally, any achievements you earn in the game will show up as decals on the car you're driving in a race; you won't be able to place those decals yourself (they're automatically added to your car), but anyone driving against you will be able to see exactly what you've accomplished in the game.
Based on our hands-on time with the game, Split/Second appears to be good fun online. The frame rate held up fairly well, even with all of the onscreen chaos happening all around. Of course, it remains to be seen how that performance will match up to the real-world settings once the game is released, but we're keeping our fingers crossed that it will hold up. Disney promises more information on single-player and multiplayer modes in Split/Second before the game's May 18 release, so look for more soon.