There’s nothing more cathartic than a nice bit of destruction, and whilst performing acts of wanton vandalism and carnage in real life will get you a slap on the wrist and a stint in jail, video games free us of such consequences, and allow us to wreak as much havoc as we want. Modern games have made our rampages that much more beautiful, smoothing the polygonal edges of our rubble and dousing our roaring fires with particle effects and clever lighting, but there’s joy to be found in every era of gaming, even back when our imagination had to fill in a lot of the gaps.
And that’s a key word, imagination. Video games give us the tools, they throw us into the playground, but it’s up to us to position the digital explosive devices, light the blue touch paper and stand back. We’re the ones who spy out the ridiculous jumps, who work out chains of events that will lead to the most satisfying, explosive climax. It’s like a puzzle made out of things that are highly flammable and things that aren’t highly flammable, and it’s our job as players to reorder them into a suitably unstable arrangement.
Whether we’re dallying around with realistic physics, or dwelling solely in the realms of explosive fantasy, video games give us the chance to use our brains and create some truly mesmerising messes. Codemaster’s upcoming Dirt: Showdown is a game that understands that, its blend of mud, bent metal and ridiculous leaps tapping into our subconscious need to break very expensive things as often and as dramatically as we can. With that in mind, here are some games that revel in the destructive urge, that entice our slumbering desires to maim and wreck everything we come into contact with.
Just Cause 2
Sandbox games have breathed new life into the digital mangling together of things that should not normally be mangled together, and Just Cause 2 is the apotheosis of the genre. It gives you an entire island to pick apart at the seams, granting you the tools to do so from the outset. With your trusty grapple cable, you’ll lash together explosive barrels and fling them at unsuspecting groups of soldiers; with a cackle you’ll pilot helicopters into refuelling stations, leaping out at the last second to find new ways of turning the environment to ash. You’re a one person wrecking crew, a child with a magnifying glass, some ants and an understanding of the principal of convex lenses focusing light. Just Cause 2 is the digital version of a stretch of dominoes, each of them waiting to be knocked into the next by the correct application of a burning, flying car.
Another sandbox game, another city waiting to be turned into smouldering chunks of rock and car. GTA 3 hails from a simpler time, when gaming wasn’t crippled by achievement points and online honesty and it was okay to fill your game up with cheat codes. The greatest of them all was the one that let you drop tanks out of the sky. They landed with a bounce of suspension, ready to be leapt in, their destructive power itching to be released on a city of unsuspecting, routine following drones. GTA 3 cast you as the rogue element, the one creature with free will in a world populated by cattle. And so you expressed that free will in the only way you knew how, by butchering people, blowing up their property and stealing their money and cars.
Once the crown prince of controversy, Carmageddon looks a little childish by our modern, desensitised standards. I mean, running people over wasn’t even the point of the game, although it did grant you extra time, and you could technically finish a level by killing everyone before another car crossed the finish line. That sort of thing just wouldn’t pass muster with the current generation of blood thirsty tweens who populate online gaming communities. Still, in its day it was a joyous blend of destruction and chaos, held together by a flimsy, Death Race 2000-lite story and populated by macabre rejects from the Wacky Races. Its take on vehicular violence might seem a little innocent, even twee nowadays, but anyone who played the original at the height of its powers will vouch for its ability to make even the most hardened maniac sigh with delight.
We’ve all been there; after a bad day at the office, or a fight with a close friend or significant other. Perhaps, even some sort of altercation with a group of rowdy teenagers who questioned our physical prowess and hurled stones at our bicycle. All we’ve wanted to do is throw away the shackles of our human form, transform into an approximation of a famous movie monster, and smash the crap out of some buildings. Well, Rampage gave us that chance. A game whose sole motivation was destruction, that saw lumbering giants clambering skyscrapers, devouring hapless inhabitants and punching concrete until it withered beneath their blows. It threw in multiplayer modes too, letting you and a friend duke it out over who was the best at breaking things with their fists. A glorious blend of B-movie madness and toppling skyscrapers that can make even the bleakest day seem hopeful.
Whilst some might argue that the freedom of Paradise gives it the edge, Burnout 3: Takedown‘s fine line in car crashes earn it its place here. Never before had a game so willingly enticed you into slamming your car into a lot of other cars for points. There are few things more satisfying in this world than watching a well timed plough into the side of a bus become a fully fledged freeway pile up, sitting back and marvelling as SUVs and sports cars smash together into a seemingly never ending cavalcade of broken metal and scorched tarmac. Throw in a multiplayer mode that pits you against your friends, with the winner the one who manages to create the biggest damage bill, and it’s obvious why Burnout 3 deserves its place on this run down of gaming’s finest smash ’em ups.