The Ryan Lambie Column: why crashing cars should be confined to videogames

A minor vehicular mishap may have left Ryan both shaken and stirred, but in the land of videogames, he still feels like James Bond...

Split/Second

If you drive a car, don’t, under any circumstances, crash it. I’ve tried it, and it’s genuinely unpleasant.

All your James Bond and Smokey And The Bandit fantasies of indestructibility are stripped away from you in an instant, and suddenly you’re aware that you’re little more than a blob of flesh in a horribly flimsy metal box.

I span a car into a lamppost once, and the results were not pretty. In a terrible shower of glass and rent metal, my beloved Mazda was almost snapped clean in two, the passenger seat hitting me, in blackly comic fashion, in the side of the head. This was several years ago, and I still remember it with shudder-inducing clarity.

Since then, I’ve avoided potential accidents at all costs, and I’m now such a coward behind the wheel that, if it ever looked as though my car were about to spin out of control in heavy rain again, I’d simply open the door and throw myself out onto the road.

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There are some kinds of accidents, however, that are unavoidable. Last week, I was journeying to work in a Vauxhall Corsa (known fondly as Zebedee, on account of its jaunty suspension) with Better Half Sarah at the helm, when a vehicle pulled out of a side road and slammed straight into the side of us. The resulting bang sounded like Godzilla kicking a skyscraper over.

Despite feeling like a crash of Jerry Bruckheimer-like magnitude, I realised, on getting out of the car, that the damage wasn’t as bad as I’d expected – surprising, as it felt as though we’d been hit with enough force to knock Earth out of its orbit.

Real life crashes, therefore, are hideous, and for stunt drivers only. Crashes in videogames, on the other hand, are absolutely fantastic.

If there’s one thing the two most recent generations of console have brought us, and that’s the processing power to render some of the most eye-bulging, awe-inspiring crashes imaginable with glorious fidelity – the kind of crashes that would stop my heart if I was actually involved in them for real.

After years of driving games where crashing could only be depicted with a few pixels flung across the screen to hint at a cracked windshield (see Atari’s Hard Drivin’, and Geoff Crammond’s Stunt Car Racer), the Burnout series brought the kind of crashes to our screens that would give even Michael Schumacher pause.

Perhaps the most impressive collection of crashes I’ve seen in the current console generation come from Black Rock’s Split/Second, an arcade racer which, while not as hedonistically obsessed with multiple pile-ups as EA’s Burnout series, provides the player with a myriad opportunities to smash other drivers off the road.

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Where the Burnout series encouraged players to drive as recklessly as possible to increase their speed, and Blur offered a multitude of power-ups which could be used to ruin your rivals’ race, Split/Second‘s innovation is altogether different. Skillful driving rewards you with the ability to trigger environmental effects, which can be used at opportune moments to smash your opponents into oblivion.

Depending on the track, these effects can range from an epic swipe from a wrecking ball, an air-to-ground attack from a helicopter or, in a chilling echo of my experience last week, a devastating side impact from lorry.

It’s a strange yet unavoidable fact, I think, as I successfully destroy three opponents at once with a carefully-timed jab of the X button, that the things that most disturb us in reality provide the most satisfying entertainment in the virtual world.

The physical forces at work in a real-life car accident are such that, once they’re experienced, are enough to make you consider walking everywhere, or at the very least driving around with a mattress carefully tied around you for added protection.

In the pixellated world of the videogame, meanwhile, I watch a lorry smash another player’s car into strips of twisted tin foil, and emit a cackle of malevolent glee.