Gaming’s 10 most cinematic car crashes

In preparation for the upcoming Dirt: Showdown from Codemasters, we look at gaming's most spectacular car crashes...

Dirt: Showdown

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where the family, along with almost all of the rest of the population of Springfield, head off to watch some stock car racing. As the cars careen around the track, they teeter comically close to crashes, spinning out of control only to regain the correct direction before they smash into the concrete barriers at the side of the tracks. All of this is much to the chagrin of the spectators, who have come not to see a race, but to witness the spectacle of fast moving vehicles smashing into immovable objects.

Human beings just love carnage, it’s probably built into our DNA or something. But, there’s also that slight sense of guilt you get when watching a crash, that maybe a fellow living creature has been injured for our own amusement. It might not last long, but feeling guilty is never good, so as an alternative, and to celebrate the upcoming release of Codemasters’ Dirt: Showdown, a game that revels in its explosions and tank-slappers, here are the ten most cinematic smashes in videogame history.

Burnout Paradise: The Ultimate Box

The Burnout series is built on its ridiculous crashes, and Paradise ups the ante no end. Just look at some of the wrecks in the video above, see how the metal bends and the sparks fly, how the camera swoops out and gives you a gorgeous view of the mess you’ve just made of your car. Automotive destruction has rarely looked, or felt so explicit. Smashing your car into a moving vehicle just isn’t enough though, so you’ll search out new and exciting ways to wreck, from flipping over a ramp, to power sliding into a pillar.

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Need For Speed Underground 2

Just watch the clip above. Just watch it. Films could never do that. They could never time their crashes so precisely, and could never throw in that many flips without killing at least one person involved. Who cares about physics or any of that nonsense when you can hurl super fast cars into the air, record it and put it up on YouTube? Now, go and watch it again. Look at the graceful spin, the sickening lurch into traffic, the inevitable continuation of the crash. Poetry in motion.


Just Cause 2

Apparently there’s a story in Just Cause 2. No one has ever found it though, because the game lets you steal cars and throw them off mountains. This is a game that puts every James Bond movie to shame, and turns cars plummeting off cliffs into an art form. Every spin is a brush stroke, every struck tree a chisel blow into a lump of stone, every plume of smoke a sentence that cuts to the heart of the human condition.

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Trust the modding community to take GTA IV‘s brilliantly realised physics engine and create an insane playbox for the destructively minded. The crash at forty seconds is of particular cathartic resonance, with its watery ending a fine punctuation mark to the flips and smashes that precede it. And if that wasn’t enough, the Bugatti Veyron model gives the whole thing a Top Gear style irreverence, without the thinly veiled right wing antagonism. Games are fun, playing around with games can make them even more fun.


Driver: San Francisco

Not only does Driver offer one of the most ridiculous in game mechanics this side of a Jeff Minter game, whereby you can spirit hop between different vehicles to take control of them, it also features a spectacular recording mode where you can build your own mini-movies like the one above. The amazing disappearing woman at 30 seconds is absolutely priceless. A brilliant mix of Bullit style cool and modern physics engines combine for a spectacular final smash.

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Trials HD

A game built around cinematic success and failure, RedLynx’s motocross platformer is all about smashing up your bones in spectacular fashion. Most tracks end with your hapless rider being blown to pieces, squashed flat, or catapulted into the heavens. Built by a developer who clearly understands the human lust for destruction, the above trailer shows off some of the more brutal crashes that you can perform.


Chase HQ

In the late eighties, policemen were all the rage, as were car chases, mullets and videogames. So it was that Chase HQ came to be. A game that cast you as a policeman, most likely with a mullet, who had to chase down villains and ram their cars into oblivion. This was a game all about crashes, and was the closest people in the eighties got to feeling like they were actually in the movies. Unless they were Tom Cruise. Or Emilio Estevez.

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Dirt 3

The first crash on this compilation video isn’t even a crash, but it’s more cinematic than most things you’ll find in the cinema this weekend. The perfect balance of flips and ludicrous escape, watching the car flop gracefully back onto the ground after its skyward excursion is wonderful, and the sort of thing you just don’t find anywhere but videogames. The rest of the crashes are just as good, and some of them are hilariously vindictive. Dirt 3 is the sort of game you shouldn’t play before a long car journey.


Dirt 3 (Again)

The best crashes are all about the right circumstances coming together. Look at the way the DC branded car nudges the player’s just right to send the other one flying over. Look at the angle of the first impact that pushes the Peugeot back out into the track. The fact the driver gets to drive away to race again is the icing on a likely blood and oil spattered cake.

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There is a helicopter firing rockets at you. Take a moment to let that sink in. Built by the sadly now defunct Blackrock Studios, Split/Second was a brilliant take on the racing genre that mixed together movie style set pieces with some bombastic physics and a televisual central theme. A ridiculous amount of fun to play, it featured some of the biggest crashes you’re ever likely to see, involving planes, overpasses, and the helicopter you see in the video above. One of the most cinematic racers out there, its explosions are second to none.