There's 3.9 seconds between me and the car behind, but it looks a hell-of-a-lot less in the rear-view mirror. Without taking my finger off the accelerator, I weave through burning pieces of rubble and other debris that has appeared since the previous lap. Adrenaline courses through my veins, spurred on by the pumping beats of the high-octane soundtrack. I feel like I'm in a car chase from a Michael Bay film or something. Approaching the final corner, a seemingly harmless crane at the side of the road suddenly comes to life, dropping a wrecking ball that swings aggressively across the track. The screen shakes violently and I swerve out of control, missing the ball by mere inches. Breathing a sigh of relief, I imagine how angry the guy in second place is right about now. After navigating the final corner, I cross the finish line and embrace victory.
Leaning back in my chair, I glance around the Lion King themed room that Disney Interactive has set up for the Split/Second: Velocity multiplayer event. The guy next to me finishes a few seconds after I do, his frustration at second place written all over his face. We exchange highlights from what we both agreed was an eventful race and note how easily the outcome of the race could have differed. This was probably the twentieth-odd race we played that day, and it was just as exciting and entertaining as the first. I thought I'd finished with racing games a long time ago, but in bringing something new to the table, Split/Second has rekindled an old love.
To back up slightly, Split/Second: Velocity is an arcade racer in a very similar vein to Burnout or the upcoming Blur. You might have already read our preview of the game back in July, but today we're looking at it from the sole perspective of multiplayer. In many ways this is exactly what you might expect from an arcade racer, but Split/Second offers something unique to the tried and tested formula. Mid race, players can trigger devastating environmental events to wipe the opposition from the face of the track. It's like racing on the set of an action movie.
Split/Second is certainly comparable to the Mario Kart series, in that it offers players at the back of the pack the opportunity to get back into the action. With a quick tap of the B button, bridges collapse, bombs detonate and jumbo jet engines fall from the sky. Timed well enough, somebody in last place could quickly find themselves in first.
Triggering such an event can't be done willy-nilly, however, and must be earned through meeting certain requirements on the track. The HUD (which is rather ingeniously mapped to the rear of your car) features a bar which can be filled through three levels. In order to do this, players must drift round corners, draft behind rival cars and catch as much as air as the track will allow. Each level of the meter will allow you to trigger an environment specific event, with an icon popping up above a rival car whenever there's something dangerous to take advantage of.
Whilst initially I was annoyed at how my hard earned position could be taken from me through no fault of my own, I grew to love the intensity of it all. Victory is never guaranteed, regardless of how far ahead of the field you are, and with pole position comes the pressure of having seven other players desperate to eliminate you from the race. It's genuinely nerve-racking stuff, but fantastic fun at the same time.