The biggest of these unnatural disasters are often triggered by some unseen race director to dramatically reshape your race and ensure you get bang for buck. But you'll get your own chance to set them off, as well as many smaller hazards; each track is laced with dozens of explosive charges that can change the route, block short cuts, create temporary or permanent obstacles, or send the burning carcasses of buses, trucks and cars bouncing across the road. Attack helicopters hover in wait at certain points, ready to bomb the competitors.
These are called Power Plays, and you earn the power needed to deploy them (or open temporary shortcuts) predominantly by drifting your car around corners, but also by drafting behind rivals and performing jumps. Icons appear over opponents' cars when they're near a hazard and then a well-timed button press is all that's needed to wreck them. There's usually a chance you'll wreck yourself too, if you're not careful. Timing a power play isn't a precise science, but it's instinctive and fair, and very rewarding when you pull off multiple wrecks.
If power plays were a purely digital, wreck-or-survive thing, they'd be hard to time at Split/Second's relentless pace. But they're a lot subtler than they sound. If they're not a direct hit, there are still the changes they make to the track and the racing line - and there are also the blast waves of the explosions to deal with, which can knock you off course, slow you down or create a careening domino effect that will wreck you a corner or two down the line.
These considerations are then held in a meticulously-maintained balance with the stats of the cars. A car with great strength will resist blast waves more easily; with a high drift rating will earn power plays more quickly; and with good acceleration will recover faster from attacks or overcooked drifts. Top speed is the trickiest stat to take advantage of, since it means limiting your drifting and maintaining momentum through corners and hazards.
All of Split/Second's cars look fantastic, and they each have a distinctive character, their own roaring exhaust note, and a well-defined but not exclusive strength. The cars are unlocked at a steady pace through the season mode, and although you'll start to settle on personal favourites later on - with some being suited to particular events - they're all so well-balanced and controllable that it's great fun trying them all out.
Even the tough, tank-like pickups exhibit pretty nimble handling, which seems strange at first, but it's a function of Split/Second's eventful track design. Tough corners are few and far between, but you need to be able to negotiate sudden hazards cleanly, so sharp steering response is a baseline requirement rather than a bonus. Instead, the depth and nuance in Split/Second's handling resides entirely in its wonderful drifting.
This is the slowest part of the game to reveal its charms - in fact, probably the only slow part in a game that otherwise operates entirely at face value. It's not as immediately exhilarating as the infinite full-pelt powersliding of a Ridge Racer or an OutRun, but it has something approaching the tactile finesse of a Project Gotham - easy to grasp but hard to master, requiring a soft touch with both throttle and brake to balance the car through the corner without touching the barriers or losing too much speed (drifting slows you, as a necessary counterpoint to the power it earns).