A shareware classic returns to the PC courtesy of Remedy with a fresh coat of paint, a full tank of gas, and a brand new chain gun.
I never played the original Death Rally that debuted on the PC way back in 1996, but it’s one of those games that I’ve always heard good things about. Just about the only car combat series I’ve ever played that I really enjoyed was Twisted Metal. Twisted Metal Black in particular is one of my all time favorites and it’s probably the closest thing to Death Rally that I’ve had experience with prior to actually playing this reboot.
Death Rally isn’t TWB, by the way. It’s a very different game in more than just looks and ice cream trucks. For one thing, DR is a top down racer with a beginning and an end to each course. It’s also a very subtile game that takes quite a bit of skill and patience to play well. That’s not to say that it can’t be enjoyed in short bursts (in fact, it’s excellent in that way) but to really excel you have to get the hang of the control scheme. And that can be something of a tricky proposition depending on your preferred method of control.
|Maybe don’t crash into those tanks
Using any combination of mouse and keyboard is… not great. DR is a top down racer. I know I said that already, but just try to imagine controlling a top down racer with a keyboard. Intuitive? No. To best enjoy the game, you want to play with a controller- trust me on that one. It’s not completely unplayable the old school PC way, but why would you want to battle through that when you could just plug in your 360 pad (providing you have one) and smoke some fools? Exactly.
‘Smoking fools’ though, I should probably mention, isn’t all that easy no matter what you play with. Death Rally is a racer, true, but it’s a combat racer where your cars are outfitted with all manner of weaponry. Getting a bead on your enemies isn’t the easiest though (even with a controller) as your guns shoot exactly where your ride is pointed. They don’t swivel at all which can make for a tough time.
Theoretically you can waste the entire field of competitors and finish a race in first simply because you’re the last man standing. Theoretically. In reality it almost feels as though the combat portion of the game was an afterthought since it’s so iffy to knock other cars out. A twin-stick type setup would have been greatly preferred as you could have had independent control over steering and guns. Why that wasn’t at least included as an option, I don’t know.
Different guns (as well as cars) can be unlocked as you play and outfitted in your garage between races. Each one has a varying level of effectiveness (providing you hit your target) and requires replenishments of ammunition during races. Ammo plays a big part in both special weapons and your standard equipped cannon. Don’t worry though because as you careen around the tracks (which are pretty great by the way) you can pick up both ammunition and nitros on the fly.
|Um, your car’s on fire
The raceways themselves (and they’re not really ‘raceways’ in the traditional sense) are well designed and allow for a good combination of tight turns and brief straightaways. Going from last to first (and vice-versa) is easy at times and can end your run fast if you’re not paying attention. It can get a wee bit frustrating, but that actually brings me to one of the reasons it’s really not- the course lengths.
Maps in Death Rally are small. They’re mostly tightly contested races with tons of wild shooting and lots of trading paint. Some have bonuses and special objectives as well. But it’s the fact that they’re short that makes a huge difference in the way you can play this game. I honestly didn’t care if I had to play a race ten times in a row. The race length made it not only tolerable, but actually fun.
Adding to that fun is that Death Rally isn’t all that hard on the eyes either. The graphics are crisp, clean, and colorful; with a kind of animated look that Remedy really pulled off well. Explosions look good and the cars are all pretty cool looking in a retro, almost SNES looking, way.
|Protip: Save your nitro
There’s not a whole lot to say about the sound design of the game though. I didn’t really care for a few of the weapon sounds and found them to be a little too tinny and hollow- if that makes sense. But Death Rally isn’t about the sounds and you don’t play for pretty music either, so none of this really hindered my enjoyment at all.
It’s not what I’d call a ‘deep’ game and there’s definitely not a ton of bells and whistles in Death Rally, but the game is fun. With short, action packed races that offer just enough in the way of things to do- Remedy has crafted a combat racer that’s fun to play for a few minutes or a few hours.
I can’t say I’m crazy about the fact that you have no real aim on your guns and the story is predictably toss away, but Death Rally is an addictivly fun time that car combat fans and retro-game lovers probably shouldn’t miss out on.
– Jason M