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Racing games are designed to be purely competitive. And, most of them go by-the-book.  Split/Second isn't one of them.  When was the last time a racing game allowed you to destroy a section of the road, trigger a crane to fall on top  of a rival car, or have a helicopter drop explosive barrels in the middle of the track---all with the sinister intentions of ending friendships and helping you cross the finish line first? And what other game can pull that all off in a marvelous, jaw-dropping, sweat-emitting splendor? If you're old enough to remember Burnout or are looking for something different in a racing game, Split/Second has the bases covered.

You're the latest contestant on a reality TV competition that looks as if it were the demented brainchild of Michael Bay. The goal of the game is simple---win by any means necessary.  Of course, this applies to every other racing game on the market.  But in Split/Second, just being faster than the other guys is not enough. You have the sadistic opportunity to dramatically change not only the outcome of the race, but the driving environment itself. The game takes place in a specially-designed city built for one thing and one thing only---destruction. Unfortunately for you, you're smack dab in the middle of all the spectacle. The good news, however, is that you have the power to trigger pinpoint explosions and traps using techniques known as "power plays". But it's not so much the thought of watching stuff blow up willy-nilly, because if you think this is all for glorious show, you're missing the point. Remember what I said about winning by any means necessary? That means purposely screwing up your opponent's chances of ever reaching the finish line first; much less in one piece. Make a nearby bridge explode, and the debris will fall in the middle of the track, forcing a rival to steer out of the way and bumper-first against a wall. (Or if you're lucky, having some of the debris fall right on him.) Cue a helicopter flying overhead to drop an exploding barrel to throw off a rival's drift long enough to careen straight and true against a railing.  In some of the more outrageous maneuvers, you can trigger jumbo jets and docked freighters to unexpectedly slide across a large section of road as a means of plowing through drivers unfortunate enough to be in its frightening path. There's no shortage of opportunities, and lest you forget---your enemies, whether they're AI or another player, have the same power at their fingertips, which adds to the unpredictability and heightened sense of danger lurking in every race.

Power plays are activated when your car builds up enough power in its gauge; located in a cleverly interspersed HUD behind your rear bumper. Building up for a power play occurs in several ways; drafting behind another car, performing drifts, having close calls, grabbing vehicular air---among other things. Once you've accumulated enough, you'll be greeted by visual cues that pop up over your opponents. Press the action button when this happens, and literally watch the sparks fly. Of course, you'd be smart not to abuse your Power Plays unless you like seeing stuff explode, because keep in mind that performing them correctly demands the utmost strategic timing so as not to be on the receiving end of your own stupidity and timing it at a critical moment for a rival car or two to smash right into it. You are as likely to be destroyed by a Power Play you executed just as much as your opponent, so be careful as well as mindful.

And Power plays do more than make stuff blow up---they can also cause events to happen that will change the overall route of the track at will, but only if your Power Play level is at its second tier.  For example, you can order a specific stretch of road to be destroyed, changing the landscape of the entire track dramatically and opening up brand new routes to throw off rival cars, or even destroy them at the moment of its changing.  It goes without saying that no two laps are ever the same. You can also take advantage of potential shortcuts you activate with the press of a button that open for a very limited window of time.  Again, going back to the "win by any means" theory, Split/Second gives you tremendous, destructive control over most aspects of the race environment in ways you never could have imagined. When applied wisely and aggressively, you can win any race even if you're dead last during the final lap.

Split/Second has a surprisingly wide dearth of options at your disposal, such as the traditional Season mode. Many events are traditional race competitions against computer opponents, while others are nefarious exercises of endurance and survivability; like avoiding salvos of missiles being fired from military-issued choppers, speeding past large trucks that drop exploding barrels along the side of the road, or just racing by your lonesome to beat a pre-determined time record while avoiding automatically triggered environmental hazards.  You can drive different cars from fictional manufacturers during most events, and many of them handle appropriately in given situations. Quick Play mode allows you to drive any track you've raced at any time, and multiplayer is handled via local 2-player splitscreen or online competitions for up to as many as eight players; eight potential friendships destroyed, and eight avenues of opportunity to make enemies.

Graphically, the game is visually impressive, and all the destructive explosions are handled to the utmost effect. The music is also worth mentioning for its ecclectic mixture of techno riffs and dramatic orchestrations which, given the action-oriented Bruckheimer-esque nature of the game, is interestingly appropriate.

An area of notable concern was that Split/Second is too heavily dependent on its one innovative gameplay feature to carry its weight. But, what more does it possibly need to make it a great game? It is a marriage of solid, antiquated arcade racing with unapologetic, vehicular manslaughter of the highest caliber that emphasizes strategy, improvision, split second timing and the sadistic methods of landing the finish line first at the expense of others. For any fan of driving games clamoring for something a little different than what they're used to, look no further than Split/Second.