Earlier, I mentioned how Need for Speed: Underground is so completely immersive. You fly along the city streets at a breakneck pace. Lights go zooming by, taillights reflect in the light sheen of water on the pavement, you barely keep the car on the road as you careen around that final corner... NFSU simply moves. Everything about the game puts you there.
There is another driving game which deserves at least as much praise. It's a series called Burnout. This game started out as a basic racing game with a bit of bonuses for driving dangerously (catching air, drifting, driving against traffic, and near misses). All quite competent, but what captured everybody's eyes (and commentary!) were the crashes. Burnout didn't simply send you spinning out, maybe with a little explosion or somesuch. In this one, your car is literally demolished. Parts flying, glass shattering, a shorn off bumper sliding across the pavement, and the twisted remains of your car body hurtling into that little compact car tooling up the cross street. The crashes were simply impressive. Nothing had been done like it before.
Along comes Burnout 2. They knew where the bread was buttered. This game had a crash mode. The entire goal was simply to crash your car and cause as much damage as possible. Well, "as much as possible" generally means playing pinball with cross traffic. The strategy is to hit the cars just so to create a pile-up like that and then bounce over there to cause a secondary pile-up. Bing! Bing! Bing! The dollars of damage ring up as you watch your car get shredded across the highway leaving twisted hunks of family cars, semis, and busses in its path. The experience is exhilarating.
I seriously lost it when my brother-in-law plowed into a big-rig tanker just so and caused that sucker to fly into the air end-over-end. Sure, just a bit unrealistic, but the adrenaline of watching that much metal spin into the sky... unnatural, but so, so satisfying as it crunches back to the hard concrete and skids into the barrier.
Burnout is fun. Pure, visceral fun. It doesn't have quite the driving immersion as NFSU, but when you're flying down a beach highway on the wrong side of the road, twitching into the other lane to avoid some oncoming traffic, and just hoping that, as you crest that low rise, you won't suddenly find yourself nose-to-nose with a car... it's a serious rush. The game is largely about the magnificent crashes, but the driving portions and the unlockables are also fantastic.
Rent this game. Now. And when Burnout 3 comes out this September -- buy it. Okay. Maybe wait for the review if you're timid. But after you play the game, you'll understand. This game is a keeper.