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A brief history of explosions in video games

1994: Star Wars Arcade

1994 was a big year for gaming in general as the industry heaved itself out of the 2D era and stumbled with wide eyes into the world of 3D opportunity. This Sega 32X game featured yet another trench run, but also some flat-shaded explosions that fitted the art style nicely. But they weren't that authentic, in all honesty. Real Star Wars explosions don't look like coloured paper.

1995: Worms

The explosions in Worms may not have been very big (though the cluster bomb was pretty devastating), but it was the impact they had on the way the game played that made them unforgettable. Every blast chipped away at the scenery, allowing gamers to create hiding spots... or simply blast their opponent clean off the screen... (*adopts high-pitched voice*) "Excellent!"

1996: Area 51

Everyone was crazy about digitised images in the mid-nineties. Can we see the attraction now? Er... no. Especially when 'explosions' like this are laid over pre-rendered backgrounds, looking like someone's stuck them on afterwards. We'll never complain about modern games again. Probably.

1997: Goldeneye

This N64 classic contained so many explosions, it even featured them on the game's box art. But what made these stand out so much was the sneaky special agent way you could use them. Detonating carefully-hidden remote mines in multiplayer remains one of gaming's most gleeful moments. Looksh like he er... hash an exshplosive temper. Sh.

1997: Colony Wars

PSone's rather ace space shooter had some sweet minor explosions when destroying enemy craft, but it was the bigger targets that truly shone. Quite literally, in fact. Once shields have been breached and the fuel chambers compromised, shafts of light emerge from the fractured hull, before a screen-filling explosion of white light. Beautiful.

1998: Incoming

Special effects in games were starting to get really good come 1998 and Incoming was full of them. Explosions with purple shock waves surrounded alien craft that disintegrated into their component polygons (pictured here at the bottom), making everyone who saw it say 'ooh' and 'aah', like Eric Cantona fans used to do at Old Trafford.

2000: The Bouncer

This was the first PS2 game from Square and a launch game for the system in Japan in late 2000. Most memorable is the scene where a runaway train crashes into a station, resulting in a massive fireball. However, the first trailer for the game at TGS in 1999 was markedly superior to the final, blurry version seen here. The blurring is deliberate, mind. Thank goodness other PS2 games didn't follow suit.

2001: Grand Theft Auto III

There are many, many reasons why PS2's first truly massive hit was so compelling. The open world, the ability to rampage through an entire city... but there's no denying the way cars exploded was a huge part of the appeal too. First the smoke, then the tell-tale flames... then the fuel tank ignites with this pleasing outcome. Chaining together explosions with a row of cars was sublime then - and still is.

2004: Every Extend

Every Extend (and its many sequels) uses explosions as a key part of its scoring system. The idea is to make the blast of each explosion catch another object in its radius, triggering another blast. The more you clear in one go, the higher your score. It all looks rather lovely too, especially in the later games.

2006: Super Stardust HD

Super Stardust HD's explosions are beautiful. But there's a reason they're included over every other twin stick shooter. They now support 3D. And if you want to show off a new 3D TV to any non-believers, the one game that might just make them say 'wow' is this. Just let a rock hit your ship and watch their mouths hit the floor.

Justin Towell
Justin Towell

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine,, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.