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GDC: Split/Second


Midday is also going out the window (and going on outside the window - did I mention Brighton's lovely?), in favour of the kind of deferred lighting techniques so far only used - to Black Rock's knowledge anyway - in Killzone 2. The idea is to have a far greater number of light sources than traditionally practical, and make everything interact with them properly, so you can have a massive, saturated flashpoint halfway up the screen bleeding into cooler shades at the periphery, and everywhere in-between.

Black Rock only has a target render to show for this so far, but the difference is considerable: there's far more heat and intensity at the heart of every explosion, and they nuzzle subtly with richer smoke effects. The team's currently working on what happens when you plough through the smoke, although it's still being prototyped. Remember when we all thought Pure looked a bit too good to be true, and it wasn't? We're told to keep that in mind.

Sound is easier to demo though, so it's across the hall to the audio booth to hear the developer claim it's gone further than anyone to bind the roar of a V8 to the way you accelerate and brake. Rather than capture loops at different pitches, the studio's split the sounds into tiny chunks, which it moves between dynamically in response to analogue input. There's still a bit of tweaking to be done for gear ratios and deceleration, but it's a satisfying, if subtle development. Less subtle is the traditional movie approach for sound effects. Just as Indy's whipcrack is a tree snapping, the sagging face of the airport is a roaring lion and the spitting bricks are gunshots.

How it feels to play remains a closely guarded secret, but the speed and cornering are visually reminiscent of Criterion's games - cars dragged mercilessly forward, writhing into drifts that swing back into line before they get too lateral - and the AI is in progress. With the added complexity of environmental destruction, Black Rock's still looking at its options, but aims to keep things tight (you need enemies on-screen to smash up with the powerplays, after all), without succumbing to blatant rubber-banding.

So far we've seen LA-style storm drains and an airport, but concept art spread over the walls at Black Rock points to a harbour among other locations.

But the game already makes a lot of sense in snapshot form. The controls are simple (triggers to stop and go, analogue to steer), and the selection process for explosions is automatic. Whenever you can set something off, it's highlighted for you, and the only overlap should be the two different types of powerplay, each of which has its own button. There are also plenty of nice touches, like the HUD, where your power-bar, lap counter and race position are all stamped to your back bumper rather than spread around the screen.

That said, there's a long way to go - all the way to early 2010 - so things like multiplayer are still question marks, although online and local options are very likely. I suggest that one person could set off explosions while others try to avoid them, and get a deadpanned "yes, I suppose you could do that", too, with a smile. It sounds like it might be fun; interesting, but uncomplicated, and that seems to be Split/Second all over, except, as with Pure, it's a deliberate simplicity that hides depth and consideration. In the same way that Pure was considerably more than an ATV game with trick jumps, Split/Second looks to be more than an arcade racing game with explosions.

Split/Second is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 early next year.

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