“By my deeds I honour him, V8.”
Like the rest of the world I was pretty stunned by just how good Mad Max: Fury Road was. As I sat there at my local cinema and watched the mutant cars duel along fury road for a good two hours, I couldn’t help but notice my cheeks starting to cramp up for the endless ear-to-ear smile planted on my face.
But while the explosions and the gun fights were amazing moments, if I’m entirely honest, the film had me before it had even started. Because just as the lights dimmed, and the Warner Bros logo splashed up on screen, there it was., the real reason I was sitting in a freezing cold cinema on a minus six degree Canberra night.
It was the warm and fuzzy feeling I got at hearing the sound of the roar of a V8 engine.
I’ve written about how, at heart, I’m a little bit of a bogan. But watching Mad Max brought that part of me right up front and centre for the whole world to see. As the sound of the beastly V8’s screamed from the cinema’s surround sound speakers I sat there giddy as a school girl, almost audibly squealing as the hulking great cars flew through the desert at high speed, the sound of the engines shaking the earth and my ear drums as the pursuit through the desert turned to crashing and burning.
And it’s not any old engine that turns me into a raging pile of testosterone, it’s that specific type of car that gives me goosebumps. I can appreciate the high pitched whine of a Formula One or a McLaren F1, but it’s the roar of a big ol’ V8 or a straight-six 186 you’d fine sitting in Aussie muscle cars in the late-70’s and early eighties that gets me excited. They were the cars that most teenagers aspired to have at a time before Gran Turismo hit and so are an almost ingrained part of the Australian psyche and identity.
Sadly that era of the heavy pieces of metal propelled by even heavier engines doesn’t received the tender love and care in video games, with developers more often than not opting for the sleeker and sexier sports cars that are coming off production lines as we speak. They’re fast, absolutely, but are they furious? I’m not so sure.
But when it’s done right, when a game decides to hone in on those heavy muscle cars, it’s a thing of beauty. Vigilante 8 (and to a lesser extent its predecessor Interstate ’76) were games practically built on that American love of much the same thing, putting its array of hulking great gas-guzzling on centre stage. The menu screens alone are not-so-subtle audio love letters to muscle cars, using the unmistakable sounds of an eight-cylinder engines, and the rickety suspension buckling under the weight of the chassis as they fall onto the screen, as cues for both car and level select.
And the game isn’t alone in its audio slavery to muscle car-worship, the “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” screen in Daytona USA is joined by a chorus of race-ready revs, imploring you to slam your foot on the accelerator peddle in preparation for that rolling start. They are small touches, sure, but they capture so much of what it is to love cars. And I’m convinced that it’s that moment, that still image accompanied by the wonderful sound of the rapid burning of fossil fuels, that left us all with the glowing first impressions of that arcade staple. And you know what
Because it’s one thing to look the part and games have been hitting that aspect for six for the best part of two decades. But capturing the feel, the impact, the physicality of a petrol-swilling V8 engine is something else. It’s the first impression you usually have of a car’s power. It’s the thing that has women and men standing around cars, kicking tyres, patting each other on the back as the engine goes from idle to high revs and the body of the car tilts in place. It’s this physical presence of a standing car that few games recreate, and while visions of cars in motion and the sound of screeching tyres and they grip the road for dear life is great, its the simple beauty of your favourite model revving in situ that stands above all else.
So Gentleman, start your engines. And let me hear that sweet purr for just a little longer.