Ten Games That Showed Us Why Destroying Cars Is Awesome
Vehicles, violence, and video games. The mix is as old as the medium itself, but it wasn’t until the mid-’90s that the particular recipe known as car-combat came to real fruition with titles like Carmageddon and Twisted Metal. Taking the concept of the demolition derby out of state fairs and monster truck rallies and into video games worked out well with the strides made towards 3D gaming. What made these games special at the time was how much caffeine-fueled, push-the-envelope, carnival caricature-level wackiness and attitude they could slap in to make it define the era of gaming.
As a matter of fact, you could argue that the level of B-movie cheese was barely par for the course for a period of time in the mid-1990s where FMV was looked at as the future of gaming, and a character like Duke Nukem was one of the last of a dying breed of catchphrase-spouting, muscle-bound protagonists. But while FMV-heavy games like Night Trap have mercifully been laid to rest, along with the trashiest Mortal Kombat ripoffs and dial-up internet, the car combat genre (and other games featuring the utter destruction of all types of vehicles) are a relic of gaming’s past that deserves a real comeback. Some games like the new Mad Max may incorporate the same style of reckless destruction, but don’t focus enough on it, while Carmageddon’s latest entry is simply lacking the fanfare it once deserved. Here are a few games that, if you’re like me, you’re apt to revisit as much as any classic from the sometimes crazy, always exciting fifth and sixth gaming generations.
Rogue Trip: Vacation 2012
Following the success of the first two Twisted Metal games and the Jet Moto franchise, developer SingleTrac was bought purchased by GT Interactive and tasked with recreating their original vehicular magic with enough fresh material to discern it from their earlier works. The first title the company produced was the submarine-based frenzy Critical Depth. This new effort from the self-branded “developers who KNOW car combat” was followed up the next year with a return to solid ground in Rogue Trip: Vacation 2012.
Both of these efforts did serviceably well in retaining a sense of the gameplay that made Twisted Metal 2 so successful, but had a difficult time recreating the same level of design in characters, vehicles, and other narrative concepts that they had done with a clean slate -- Rogue Trip’s closest thing to a mascot is a replica of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile, which simply couldn’t hold a candle to Sweet Tooth’s I-Scream Truck or the monstrous school bus that graced the cover of the Vigilante 8 games. Rogue Trip is largely worth playing as an intriguing alternative to the names that inspired it, though it’s also to be commended for its mission-based story mode that broke up gameplay nicely and highlighted its “road trip gone wrong” motif.
A fairly recent entry for a car combat game, Sega did its damnedest to lay claim to the genre, giving things a go with a combat-racing style of car combat. Traditional racing on closed circuits and city streets was mashed up with the mounted guns and landmines of the genre’s staples.
The Full Auto games certainly pack their fair amount of character with their slick muscle cars and demented street racing feel, understandably giving a more modern feel to the game than the off-the-wall storylines and characters that had gone out of style in recent years. A hidden gem of the 360 era, though like a lot of racing games with moderately fresh concepts, it sometimes works better for a distraction or break from other titles than for marathon playing sessions.
The first of a few games on this list with a more traditional racing foundation, Demolition Racer will always remain in the shadow of its older brother, Destruction Derby. Dreamcast fans especially should remember this one for its No Exit version which appeared on the system and became one of its best, despite the plethora of other racing titles it was forced to contend with.
Demolition Racer boasts excellent track design and an impressive physics and damage engine for its time, but should also be remembered for being one of the first games of its kind to include a multitude of wacky mini-games and other modes, such as tennis, football, and even a light gun shooter. It's the same type of cool bonus content that would become commonplace in arcade driving games for years to come, but not often as creatively as when it was first done here, although one other series comes close:
Take everything I just said about the physics and originality from Demolition Racer, and imagine it done on the PS2 and Xbox, with the bonus of drivers who launch through windshields like intoxicated stuntmen. This addition to the demolition derby racing formula made for a bit more realistic approach to actual racing, but an inversely more wild take on the treatment of cars and drivers.
Mashing and mangling a bunch of junkers is all well and good, but the fun mostly lies in the crashes and how the physics of them are employed in the Stunt mini games. Launching your hapless driver at a big dartboard like a human cannonball or at a frame of bowling pins might get old after a few tries, but the balance and physics are there to make them into worthwhile games of their own that are plenty fun with friends all challenging for the top scores.
WWE Crush Hour
I know damn well I'm going to get roasted for this, but I stand by it: Crush Hour is a baffling concept that somehow stumbled its way into being a fun as hell game. The story from right out of the game itself is that Vince McMahon has taken over all of television. He attempts to exercise his influence across every channel and type of program with the centerpiece being a new contest where WWE superstars take to the streets in souped-up vehicles mounted with all manner of weaponry to try and take the top spot. Wow.
Surprisingly, the game delivers on most accounts, including cheese factor, despite a very tangible glass ceiling and limited target audience. It's fun to see how various WWE concepts and characters can actually manage to translate to what is quite obviously just a Twisted Metal clone with the world’s most unexpected license. Luckily the game never feels like it has been slapped together, with good control and a satisfying sense of structure and attention to detail, meaning that anyone interested in pressing on further once the novelty starts to ease up.
Surprisingly the series on this list with the most recent entry, Carmageddon: Max Damage was released this past summer, though I can’t tell you I know anyone who knew about it beforehand, though it certainly did a commendable job of reinvigorating its own series, even if the genre as a whole remains dormant. Carmageddon was a marvel of 3D graphics and control when it released on PCs in 1997, though that's hardly what anyone remembers it for.
Most of Carmageddon’s legacy lies, of course, in its excessively violent content which involved mowing down pedestrians into gory stains on the ground and other fits of purely reckless driving. A shame, as not only is it fairly tame by today's standards (like most “objectionable” games of the time) but it means that the lasting quality of its gameplay has been lost to the ages, especially with an entire trilogy of worthwhile PC entries in the series marred by pathetic console ports. Don't hesitate to pick up Max Damage if it interests you, of course, but don't expect it to resemble the originals much, either.
Burnout 3: Takedown
The Burnout series had always been a fun, arcade-style racer based on offensive driving and other concepts that focused on an added element of danger and destruction. The third entry, Takedown, took the series to the next level with a game based almost entirely on the immersive and exciting mechanic of causing massive, hideous wrecks - without any of the organic mess that usually follows.
Basing races on forcing other drivers into brutal collisions and crashes sounds like a horribly violent affair, that is presented with surprisingly little to object to and a whole lot of different ways to see the carnage go down. From survival races to racking up the most takedowns, to good old fashioned Crash Mode, where your score is measured in straight up cash equal to the value of your destructive abilities. Burnout 3 remains one of the most purely fun racing games ever made and the highlight of its series even to this day, and it all started with the concept of the Takedown.
The classic franchise of the destruction racing concept, the original Destruction Derby impressed on the PC and Playstation in 1995 despite its simple translation of the classic monster truck sideshow, due mainly to its excellent graphics at the time (a sign of developer Reflections’ impressive skill with 3D graphics) and purely fun concept. A rather simple execution compared to the rest of the titles listed here, Destruction Derby’s first entry remains a strong advocate of the “less is more” phenomenon that affects many burgeoning 3D games of the time.
As the series continued, track design and better control became the mark of progression, with both Destruction Derby 64 and Destruction Derby 2 improving on the original consistently and maintained a satisfying sense of destruction. A final entry, Arenas, proves enjoyable upon revisiting it as well, but can easily be understood as being out of place when it was released in 2004. Still arguably the best series of its kind, regardless of its rather unceremonious end, it’s worth picking up on any of the systems it was released for.
Brought onto consoles as a spinoff of the PC’s Interstate ‘76, the confusingly named Vigilante 8 series brought a groovy gang of mercenaries and a more mission-based campaign to the table than some of its competitors. It plays as good as most other games from the period, utilizes a more encompassing story, and boasts its own set of interesting vehicles and characters with a much different flavor inspired by ‘70s disaster and action flicks.
For the most part, Vigilante 8 will be remembered as “the other car combat game, ” but it certainly deserves to be viewed on its own merits, and plenty will remember it fondly especially if they didn't own a Playstation in the late ‘90s. It's really unfortunate that unlike a lot of the games on this list, Vigilante 8 didn't continue into the new millennium, deciding to give up the race after only two really solid console entries.
The game synonymous with car combat since its first incarnation in 1995, Twisted Metal is also the most synonymous with the cartoonish ‘90s attitude that produced its most well-known characters such as Sweet Tooth, Mr. Grimm, and Warthog. Twisted Metal has had its ups and downs but is lucky in the sense that it's one of the few franchises from the genre to last long enough for that.
Twisted Metal 2 is still largely considered the most memorable entry, not just because it has the best gameplay of the original Playstation titles, but because it embodies the series better than Twisted Metal: Black, which may have played better but took the series in a wildly different direction. Twisted Metal’s over the top characters were as memorable as the cars they drove, and the series did a better job of matching vehicles to characters than just any other series.
The mishandling of the PS3 reboot and its online-first approach left a sour taste in the mouths of a lot of players and likely Sony as well, but it had the gameplay foundation that fans had been wanting to see brought to new consoles. It's entirely possible that the series has had its last run, but if there's anything that can really bring back the car combat genre, Sony could give it another shot with Sweet Tooth and the Twisted Metal series.