Gaming's Defining Moments No.25
Sometimes looking forward causes you to think back.
This was the case for me recently. Just reading the description of the impending DiRT Showdown's full contact driving events took my mind back to different time and a special game. That time was the mid-90s, and the game in question was Destruction Derby.
I vaguely remember chaotic races around simple, yet unforgiving tracks. Each populated by erratic and aggressive drivers. But that vague recollection isn't the reason that Destruction Derby holds a special place in my heart. The main event, the Bowl, was the most exciting experience I'd had behind the virtual wheel. Ever.
It probably still is.
Dozens of cars point into the centre of massive, dusty circular arena. Engines rev. Sweaty hands clutch the control pad. Incredible destruction and mayhem are about to ensue.
It's also the last game of the season, adding further gravitas to proceedings. A good finish here will undoubtedly lead to a promotion to the next league. Given the length of time invested so far, falling at this hurdle would be bitterly disappointing.
The green light flashes and suddenly all the cars roar into life, all hurtling into the centre of the arena. A scene of chaotic destruction unfolds, metal splinters, damage is dealt.
Damage to the car is highlighted on an icon in the corner of the screen. As the vehicle is involved in more and more collisions, parts of the car begin to change from green, to orange, and eventually to red. After red is nothing, save the promise of imminent destruction.
Pushing the car to its very limits often involved lots of reversing. Using the back of the vehicle as a battering ram helped preserve the front end, for a while at least. Inevitably it wears out, becoming more and more vulnerable with every collision.
Points were handed out for spinning your opponents. Clipping them at just the right angle was an essential skill. Without the bonuses that these spin inducing collisions gave, progress through the game was impossible. A full 360 spin yielded a ten point bonus, more than double what 180 and 90 spins offered. Hitting the sweet spot at the back of the car was were the money was at.
The other way to rise through the ranks was to finish off your competition. Writing-off a rival offered a generous bonus, though you had to survive long enough to get to the point where your fellow competitors were weakening. Finding a balance between hitting well aimed spins and self-preservation for the end game was key.
The game was released by Psygnosis (now a part of the Sony family), and developed by Reflections (who would, under new owners, go one to create the Driver series). It proved a massive success, and was one of the first PlayStation titles to go platinum.
Its popularity also ensured it would spawn a slew of sequels, though for my money, none of them matched up to the original, whose beauty lay in simplicity. Adding features and new modes only diluted the core experience for me, and it's why Destruction Derby, and not one of its more graphically superior sequels, is this week's defining moment.