History of dangerous driving in videogames

Death Race - 1976

It all started with a little game called Death Race. There can’t be very many single-screen driving games, but this is one of them. The arcade cabinet shows pictures of zombies - something that a lot of games have since used to justify their shocking violence. The aim of the game is to run people over - more people than your opponent, in fact. But because they’re already dead, you’re not killing them! See? In fact, you end up leaving a solid gravestone in their wake, complete with a cross. So, if anything, you’re giving them a proper burial. Yessir.

To be honest, the idea of a competitive dash to run over as many zombies as possible within a strict time limit still sounds like a freakin’ awesome concept for a game. The petition for an XBLA remake starts here.

3D Deathchase - 1983

And so 3D Deathchase it was. But what a game. If ever you needed an example of an old game that was way ahead of its time, this is it. Marvel at the ZX Spectrum’s masterful use of first-person vehicular action. The game saw you trying to shoot enemy riders, tanks and a helicopter as you drove through a forest of trees that scaled as you drove towards them. Incredible stuff - check it out:

In comparison, look what Gamecube did to much acclaim some 20 years later:

Basically the same gameplay, just dressed up a little from those amazing Speccy graphics. Of course, the primitive 3D Deathchase wasn't perfect. I remember as a child my confusion as the subroutine for the random tree generation got stuck - and I found myself driving forever ‘left’ inside a circle of trees. Unable to stop or turn round, I continued to avoid every trunk by the skin of my teeth for a good three or four minutes, before finally resigning to the fact that I’d have to die if I was ever to escape the nightmare.

Despite the game's incredible first-person perspective and killer graphics, as was so often the case, you did have to turn off the sound on the TV if you wanted to preserve your sanity. Man, that was dire.

Road Rash - 1991

Of course, it was all just hand-drawn sprites and flat-shaded energy bars that were taking a beating, but it was devilishly realistic.

Above: As you progressed through the game, more traffic filled the roads. Where do you go in this situation?

So much so, in fact, I was once watching an episode of Baywatch with my parents (I was 10, it was on at 6pm... that's not weird. Right?) when someone was knocked from their motorbike during an illegal street race. My dad turned to me in a very serious manner and said “See - that’s what happens when the stuff in your game happens for real”. It taught me a very valuable lesson: Never watch Baywatch with your parents.

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, Traxion.gg, 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.