Death Rally Review (or Why You Should Read the Whole Review, Not Just Scores)

death-rally-box-artThis won’t shock regular readers but I’m a bit of a racing fan. Find me a driving game and I’m likely to take some positive from it. I say “likely” because that was “going to take a positive” from a driving game until I picked up the remake of Death Rally. Remedy Entertainment might be best known for its work on Max Payne and Alan Wake but the first game out of the studio was 1996’s Death Rally. Fifteen years later, it was remade for iOS and this year, it was ported to PC.

So is Remedy’s update of one of its classics up to par with recent updates like XCOM and Baldur’s Gate? Can an iOS port to PC be worth the price of admission? I examine in my review.

Death Rally is a rather explosive and destructive take on the old racing adage “To finish first, first you must finish.” That’s because it combines racing with on-track combat. What else would you expect from a game called Death Rally? You have six weapons and nine cars to choose from which can all be upgraded from cash earned from races.

death-rally-screenshot-01-storyAnd that’s pretty much where the wheels start to fall off Death Rally. The game starts with a story mode that’s told through comic book frames and with voiceovers. After the introduction in which you’re offered a pardon for going on the Death Rally tour to take down The Adversary (for reasons unexplained), you get one more story cutscene before facing down The Adversary. Some story that is.

There are some story missions and elements in the game though. These come through your cell phone. You receive invites to special races that are listed in the story section of the race selection menu. You can also get temporary car and weapon upgrades from a mysterious stranger (identity unknown from my playthrough) for a cut of your race rewards.

Driving and combat aren’t terribly well executed. There’s no sensation of speed, even with the fastest cars. Passing is difficult giving how narrow and short the tracks are. The handling of the cars isn’t very precise. The worse handling cars wallow about with a turning circle the size of Texas. The better handling cars only experience that at low speeds. As many tracks feature twin 180-degree S-bends, you’ll be holding on for dear life.

Combat isn’t much better. Running with a car behind you is a virtual death sentence given how fragile your car is. The other cars, on the other hand, are nearly impossible to destroy. Their low health indicator always feels like an indicator of 50% health because they take just as long to get to low health as to blow them up.

All of these factors make progressing through the career/story mode a bit of a grind. I don’t really understand how the story progresses apart from running races. I’m sure that the story progresses faster if you win races but I have no evidence to back up that hypothesis. Upgrading your cars is also a grind. Given how hard it is to actually race, earning money to upgrade cars is a very long grind. Eventually you can max out your inventory and fully upgrade your cars but it will take a long while to get there. On the one hand, it extends the length of time you play the game. On the other hand, it feels every second that it takes to get there.

death-rally-screenshot-02-combatThere isn’t much to say about the graphics and sound in this game. It’s a top-down driving game which doesn’t put much strain on your computer. As this is an iOS port, you shouldn’t be surprised to find out the graphics or sound aren’t mind-blowing. They serve their purpose though you’ll still find yourself snagged on parts of the track that you wouldn’t expect to stop you dead in your tracks. The user interface is functional. Just click one of the large-ish icons and go. The simple UI is a nice carryover from designing for iOS devices.

Conclusion

I went into this expecting something closer to Twisted Metal meets Mario Kart. I guess I got that since the story mode was as deep as Mario Kart’s. Everything else was squandered potential. The half-hearted attempt at a story mode and the draining grind to unlock and upgrade vehicles make this game hard to enjoy.

Still, if you come at this in short doses, it’s not without fun. Blowing up other cars is mildly satisfying. I wish the destruction was a bit more gratuitous but it’s still blowing shit up. That’s never a bad thing. Just don’t do it for extended periods of time. I mean more than 15 minutes at a time.

death-rally-screenshot-03-racingSo why did I pay my own money for this game in the first place? There were actually some good reviews for this game on GameRankings. Some outlets scored it as high as 8/10. Later examination of one of those 8/10 reviews for Death Rally included the last two sentences of “[T]here simply isn’t enough game here to justify parting with a sawbuck. Wait for the inevitable 66% off Steam sale on this one.” How do you give this game an 8/10 if you think it’s only worth a buy at two-thirds off?! How the hell do you justify giving it that good of a score while basically saying that it’s not good enough to buy at full price? That same site gave Max Payne 3 an 8/10 and that’s a game that’s on a few best games of 2012 lists.

That’s probably the biggest problem with this game. There’s nothing there for the $10 price tag. This is a $0.99 iOS game ported to PC. I haven’t read anything about features added to Death Rally to justify increasing the price ten fold. I will say that waiting for the 66% off Steam sale is the right call though possibly still too high a price. All I know is that I paid too much for it and I bought it at 50% off.

Rating: 4.5/10

Death Rally was reviewed on PC but is also available for iOS and Android mobile devices. Impressions and pricing of the game will change depending on the platform you play this on.

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