SplitSecond1

My first appointment at GDC today, even before I picked up my press credentials, was a visit with the folks at Disney Interactive Studios, where I saw racing game “Split/Second” and family party/mystery game “Guilty Party.” I’ll post my thoughts on “Guilty Party” in a bit, but “Split/Second,” due out in May, was the perfect antidote to Tuesday, in which I spent virtually the entire day driving from Portland to San Francisco via the straight, always boring I-5 and I-505.

“Split/Second,” from Black Rock Studio, the folks who made ATV racer “Pure,” reminds me a lot of Electronic Arts’ “Burnout” games, specifically “Burnout Revenge.” As in any racing game, your goal is to drive fast and win the race, but “Split/Second,” like the “Burnout” games, is all about making your opponents wreck, creating giant explosions and causing general mayhem.

In the “Burnout” games, though, your opportunity to wreck your opponents is largely limited by your ability to trade paint, send them crashing into guard rails or check vehicles into them from behind. In other words, you have to hit stuff with your car. “Split/Second,” which has a reality-show-style setup, has you filling up a meter by trading paint, sliding around corners and drafting, then triggering a variety of preset route changes and environmental traps, taking out your opponents in the process.

The game uses three different classes of vehicles: sturdy trucks, light and fast supercars and muscle cars, which are sort of a middle category. (I played using a supercar.)

In addition to showing me the standard race mode, which is what I played, Green showed off the game’s survival mode, in which you earn time by passing other vehicles and dodging a variety of traps set by what he called “nemisis vehicles, there to cause trouble.” Basically, the last driver left after all the others’ meters have run out wins.

In the brief time I got to play “Split/Second,” setting off traps — and dodging hazards put into play by my computer-controlled opponents — was a lot of fun. The concept of a destructible racing environment reminded me a lot of “Full Auto,” a mediocre racer from a few years back that let players have at each other (and the environment) with a variety of weapons that were strapped to the cars. I never got around to playing “Full Auto,” largely because of the game’s humdrum reviews and the inherent conflict between trying to drive a car while aiming a high-powered weapon at the same time.

Black Rock’s Jay Green acknowledged that “Split/Second’s” reality show-style setup got around that fundamental conflict between trying to bring down the course around you while keeping your eyes on your fellow racers. To trap your enemies, you need merely to wait until an icon appears over your rivals’ cars before triggering environmental destruction. It might be a tad less sastisfying in theory than taking out your rivals with a hood-mounted chaingun, but it’s a lot more workable.