GTA V And The History Of Driving Games

In the run up to the GTA V release we take a look back at the history of driving games and why nothing beats speeding around a sandbox for at home exhilaration.
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Nobody likes to drive, and that includes you. No I’ve never met you before and I’m not a trained quality psychic like Derek Acorah, but I know for a fact that there is no way in hell you could actually enjoy sitting behind the wheel of a car. You could be stuck in hours or traffic; you could get a puncture; you could actually need to be somewhere for a specific ‘pre-arranged’ time which is just never going to happen.

You may think it’s glamorous; we all grew up watching James Bond cruising in his Aston Martin with an attractive blonde by his side, but I can tell you now, no matter how much the TV insists driving will definitely not improve your chances of sleeping with an attractive blonde. And if you drive simply to sate your need for speed well you’d be better off catching the bus, at least they have lanes for that sort of thing and you’ll have your pick of the women. Driving for fun is sadly in the past and all that’s left is the daily boring commute to work.

So why not just stay at home and drive? Leave the driving for the pros and get a taxi. Throw away those car keys, bin the nauseating pine perfumed air freshener, turn on your PC/PS3/Xbox 360 and whack in a driving game. Now, doesn’t that make you feel better?

Fantasy racers are so wide and varied that almost everyone can find something to suit their particular interests.

The brilliance of videogames that offer a driving experience is that you neither have to have any driving experience or even know what a car looks like to be good at them. They just work! Press x, steer left and hurtle around that chicane like your Lewis Hamilton without the slightest fear of ending your own life. Give it an hour or two and you’ll be winning races, leading tournaments and no matter what your better half things of you, trust me, you’ll soon be as slick as Jeremy Clarkson, with far better hair. No one is going to get in your way, the traffic lights won’t turn red and any silly pedestrian that dares to cross your path better have some good health insurance in place because when your foot hits the floor, it’s game over.

The toughest part is choosing which breed of videogame will suit your particular skills and mould you into the cocky antagonistic Ayrton Senna of your dreams. For the newcomer, the choice comes down to two simple genres – fantasy or simulation.

The fantasy racers are so wide and varied that almost everyone can find something to suit their particular interests. They’ve been going for longer than Michael Schumacher and over dozens of bad and average incarnations most of the kinks in the bodywork have by now been hammered out.

For those who desire simple speed look no further than Burnout or the aptly titled Need For Speed. Burnout in particular is a brilliant series of games that actually asks the player to cause as much damage and destruction as possible. Harking back to the Destruction Derby games on the original Playstation, Burnout is a fun and exhilarating experience that becomes highly addictive quickly – the perfect mix for any driving game.

No matter what your age Rainbow Road offers a challenge for even the most hardened of gamers.

Perhaps burning rubber and taking names isn’t exactly your cup of tea. Even the mild mannered can find a driving game to suit reflect their sunny disposition. Look no further than the legendary Mario Kart, still going strong for over a decade. Firing projectiles and power-gliding around corners never gets old, and no matter what your age Rainbow Road offers a challenge for even the most hardened of gamers.

Still not fast enough for you? Perhaps you want to feel your eyeballs bulging from their sockets as you speed around a zero-g racetrack? Then why not try a shot of science fiction with your racer – slap in Wipeout and the only thing you’ll feel is fear, brilliant exhilarating fear. Neon lights and exquisitely designed circuits in enclosed tubes leave little room for mistakes and it makes for a truly compelling experience.

If suspending your disbelief to this extent isn’t for you then perhaps you will find the traditional simulated driving game more to your tastes. Rather than simply focusing on fun and the thrill of speed, games such as Gran Turismo and Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix series leave a heavy focus on the mechanics of racing, of grinding every possible second of speed out of your vehicle. These are notoriously difficult to play and often require hours of practise to truly begin to understand the controls and learn the quickest line for taking high-speed corners - but once mastered you’ll feel so powerful that even The Stig will be quaking in his boots.

One game that perfectly marries the two driving experiences into something revolutionary is Grand Theft Auto. GTA is about to release its sixth instalment and has over time evolved from a simple top down racer/runner to a game that offers a complete 3D world for your character to explore.

Neglecting to pay your toll on the bridge will find you arrested quicker than you can say Lindsey Lohan.

Rather than having to earn through hard work and the paying of large bills, the car of your dreams is there for you to take. No other game offers that freedom of choice, and although certainly unscrupulous, the idea of liberty and freedom is a strong narrative that runs through all of the games.

Of course it is entirely possible to play Grand Theft Auto without breaking the law. But playing it straight will leave you having about as much fun as Kimi Raikkonen and will leave you ending up looking just as sour faced. Grand Theft Auto is an opportunity to run riot without any of the repercussions. You don’t die in Grand Theft Auto, you’re simply incarcerated for a few seconds and have some of the hard earned cash you haven’t really worked hard for stripped from your pockets.

It’s possible to play just for the story, which is usually a poorly constructed flabby middled chunk of gangster rubbish, or you can simply plug in, relax and drive. It allows you the liberation of both the fantasy of freedom while remaining so life like that neglecting to pay your toll on the bridge will find you arrested quicker than you can say Lindsey Lohan. It’s a strange juxtaposition of ideas, but clearly one that works.

Grand Theft Auto succeeds because it takes the elements of a driving game and places them in a lifelike environment. We’re at home in a city like New York because it isn’t New York. We know our way around, we know how the streets and highways ebb and flow and more importantly it appeals to our anarchic nature to be able to pay no attention to authority.

Grand Theft Auto, although not a traditional driving videogame is perfect escapism and is guaranteed to more enjoyable then getting in your real car and trying to drive. So the next time you’re stuck in traffic jam or it takes half an hour to edge out onto a busy roundabout, turn around, head home and have a little drive around a sandbox, it’s much safer that way.

Other video game articles you might enjoy…

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – A History of Guns and Games

GTA 5: 5 Reasons It Will Blow Our Minds

A History Of Grand Theft Auto

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