Car chases (along with bow ties) are cool, there’s no denying that. It’s just one of the immutable facts of the universe. The screech of burning rubber, the glint of chrome and polished steel, the improbable handbrake turn that no one would be able to perform in real life, that bit where the hero turns the car around and manages to drive backwards just as quickly as he was driving forwards even though that’s impossible. These are all things that are so deeply ingrained in our cinematic cultural heritage that trying to disentangle them would be like severing a limb.
But, it’s more than just feats of automotive madness that mean car chases grab our attention and refuse to let go. Video games have tried, and mostly failed, to tap into that rich vein of gear headed action movie tropes. The problem is they take the swooping camera angles, the laconic wheel men and the cars that no one with a sensible job (or without a mid-life crisis) would ever actually purchase, but fail to adequately transmit the soul of the car chase, the beating heart of irrepressible awesomeness that the very best car chases all possess. It’s all about rebellion, about cocking a snook at the laws of the road and putting your pedal to the metal.
If video games are going to capture that spirit, and start breaking some rules, then they need to learn some important lessons. Here are a few tips to get them started.
There’s nothing worse than something stupid like reality ruining your fun. Sure, you might have been side-swiped by a police car, or driven over a bunch of broken glass that’s punctured your tyres, but you’re an in-control sort of person, so that shouldn’t make any difference. Movie drivers are essentially super heroes, able to control slides and accidents that would leave mortal men openly weeping over the wreck of their Volvo. Some games get this right, some games realise that flipping your car over three or four times shouldn’t mean you have to stop and start again. As long as you’ve still got a couple of wheels attached on either side, then there’s a pretty good chance you’re going to get away from whoever is behind you. Leave science to the scientists, and realism to the documentary makers.
Some games are a little too noisy. They have your character yabbering on, revealing his secrets and his problems and his shopping lists to anyone who’ll listen. Movies teach us that silence is golden. Take Drive, a film where the protagonist says all of eight words throughout the entire ninety minute run time. We don’t need talking to drive the story along, all we need is the roar of a ridiculously large, planet-murdering engine, the odd wail of a siren, and the scream of a perfectly executed power slide. By the same token, let us turn the music off. Some people might like to listen to modern popular music while they’re tearing around in a muscle car, but the rest of us long for engine noise, scenery swooshes and the inevitable crunch of car on car. Let us hear what we’re unlikely to hear in real life.
Simples, sort of
Drivers in movies rarely take a wrong turn. They know the route, they know the corners they have to throw their perfectly poised machine around, and the corners they can take flat out without flinching. We should be the same, eagle eyed, all knowing driving robot, always one step ahead of the rest of the field because we’re so sure of ourselves. Our task should still be tough, because driving really fast is really tough, but not so tough that we just want to curl up in a ball and cry. Winners don’t cry, winners win. We’re laid back and cool, and we take corners in our stride because that’s the sort of thing that seasoned wheelmen and racers do. Let us strut our stuff, in a metaphorical, car-driving sense. Don’t make us work out which way we’re supposed to go.
Let’s see that again
Amazing moments in films are often played out more than once. The giant leap over the improbably large gap, the ingenious move that got rid of the three cops that were hanging onto the hero’s tail; movies give you three or four chances to see the same thing from different directions. Let us show off to our friends in the same way. Plenty of video games have editing software built in to let you show off your replays, but let’s take it up a notch. We want lens-flare and camera wobble, shots taken from the spinning rim of the wheel, the ability to add extra rubbish to the scene and have the car plough through it. Everyone should have the chance to make their own perfect car movie, so let us add our own songs, our own sound effects, even our own ugly mugs. The technology exists to make you the star of a sequel to Bullit, or Days of Thunder, directed, produced, and edited by you as well.
There should always be a way out of any trouble we get ourselves into, some magical escape that doesn’t seem physically possible. If we’re cornered, give us one chance to escape, be it via a QTE or something more substantial, but make sure that there’s some hope of a fantastic egress. The same goes for racing games, a player should always have the edge, so give them one freebie per race. Let us slide through that gap that we shouldn’t fit through, let the fireball we’re about to create with our recklessness affect our rivals but leave us basically un-singed. Our triumphs should be that much more impressive that the AI, our ascents to the pinnacle of driver-hood should be facilitated by skin-of-our-teeth manoeuvres that no one else would have been able to pull off.
Of course, some of these ideas would be frankly ludicrous in an F1 game, but then we play realistic racing games for completely different reasons. What we could do with is a new genre of driving game, one that allows you to indulge in your most ridiculous filmic car fantasies. Unless they’re like the ones in Crash. That would be a whole different sort of genre.