You grip the wheel tightly. Your knuckles turn white. You rev the engine, and check your mirrors. Every car is covered in death-dealing weaponry. Barbed bumpers, gatling guns…and is that a flamethrower? The timer hits zero. You slam the accelerator, and begin firing hot lead into your opponents. Death Rally is back.
After 16 years, Death Rally has finally been brought back to the PC. Of course, it hasn’t been gone the whole time. We can only assume that Remedy saw the success its iOS app had, and felt compelled to bring it back home. There have been several different versions between then and now…but can the top-down racer compete in a world of chase cameras and in-cockpit views?
For the uninitiated, Death Rally is fairly simple. You drive your car of choice as fast as you can around the track. That’s not the whole story, though. One of the main things that sets Death Rally apart from other modern racing games is the camera angle. When I first loaded it up, I just assumed the view would be one of those “slightly-above-and-behind-the-car” views… but it wasn’t. True to its roots, it was still a birds-eye view of the action. I initially loved it, but assumed that it would wear thin after awhile. Another mistake. After several hours of non-stop action, I can safely say that the style is not just a novelty. In fact, it actually helps Death Rally stand on its own.
In terms of story, the game actually handles itself quite well. It’s presented in a neat and clean comic-style presentation, with surprisingly good (though at times cheesy) voice acting. You may be of the mind that there’s no real room in a bloodthirsty racing game for massive amounts of story dialog. Nor is there room for lengthy cutscenes, massive character revelations, or the like. Remedy understands this, and focuses on what matters: strapping giant guns on your vehicle and making you feel like Death incarnate.
Actually getting into a new race couldn’t be much simpler. You select a car of your choice (provided you’ve unlocked more than one), select your armaments, choose a match from the row at the bottom, and…well…that’s it. You’re dropped into the race, and begin relentlessly hammering away at your opponents until they (or, say sorry, you) become a smoldering husk that litters the track.The actual act of racing is pretty satisfying. It may be a placebo effect, but I get the feeling that each surface that you drive on actually has it’s own properties. Power-sliding and drifting around corners is way too much fun, and landing the killing blow on an opponent can have a Pavlovian effect. Example: there have been certain races where, even though I’m in a much faster vehicle, I still hover behind someone just to blow them up and steal their delicious rewards.
The racing itself does take just a few extra moments to get used to though. Instead of typical racing games where you hold left or right to turn, and then hold forwards to stay straight, the top-down style makes use of all four directions. Up goes North, Right goes East, and so on. While it does take a bit of extra effort to master, it really does seem much more natural and logical after awhile.
You’ll find yourself losing plenty of hours in Death Rally, as the loads of unlockables and upgrades will keep you killing for weeks to come. The unlockables themselves are actually attained in a series of parts. So say that while one car may require to to collect 15 different pieces, another better car (or weapon) may require 35 pieces. This fact alone extends your playtime, and gives you a real goal to work towards, other than the main storyline. The multiplayer aspect (while flawed), is also a great time sink. You can still get money and those delicious rewards while rubbing paint with friends, even while blasting them to bits and laughing like a lunatic.
There are a few issues that you may notice as you play, however, and it wouldn’t be an honest review without making note of them. If you’ve played the iOS version that came out recently, you’ll notice that almost nothing is different here. The interface, the unlocks, and even the graphics look pulled straight from the app version. While the game is fun no matter what platform you play it on, I do wish a bit more effort was put into it to really make it shine on the PC. Because of the sameness, it also feels hard to justify the $9.99 price that Remedy is charging. Especially in the graphics department. While most of the stuff is going by too fast for you to notice, at times it’s easy to see how certain elements look dated compared with other recent games.
There’s also no real tutorial for new players. While this may not seem like a huge deal, certain things are a bit confusing at first. In this same vein, I do wish that upgrading your weapons was a bit more transparent. What exactly am I upgrading? Does this give me more ammo, or a more powerful shot? What am I spending this money on? Another little hiccup is not being able to swap out your pieces or parts before allocating upgrades. I guess Remedy assumed I wanted to upgrade the weapon I just used, and not a different one.
You may also notice that some levels you play early on are played later, in reverse. While I initially thought this was a neat gameplay extension, it gets old fast. While it does give you time to get a certain corner on a certain track just right, it grows thin after playing the same ones over and over and over.
Multiplayer can also use a bit of TLC. Instead of creating a lobby where you can invite your friends, you (and everyone you want to play with), must all create a channel which has the same name in order to play together. You’re never quite sure who is in the lobby with you either, as you just stare at a blank track until the game decides at some magical point in time that it’s going to start the race.
While those last few paragraphs were all a bit complain-y, rest assured that Death Rally is one hell of a fun game. It’s slick, it’s fast, and it’s (mostly) easy to pick up and play. If you can get past the small issues I’ve listed here, then you’ll be in for a wild ride indeed.
Now if you need me, you can find me out on the track. Just follow the tire tracks and pools of blood.