Time for a little bit of a video gaming history lesson. Back in the 90’s, when PC’s were ruling the day (at least with everyone I knew), and in 1996, Remedy put out a game through Apogee and GT Interactive. It was a top-down racing game where the player would run in deadly races with weapons, unlocking new cars and working theirs way to the top. It featured some bizarre opponents, including Duke Nukem, and it was loved, so much so that it was eventually turned into freeware and made to work on more modern PCs. Sixteen years later, and Death Rally has been remade, originally for the iOS and Android, but now it’s unleashing it’s old school top-down driving fury on the PC. Is it a crash and burn, or is this one a winner? Let’s take a look.
The whole game is basically one big grinding story. You do have special story maps to run on that you unlock as you go, but then you have the other regular and challenge maps as well. You’re out minding your own business doing doughnuts in the desert one day when the cops show up, so you try and drive your way out of it, but end up getting hauled in by what looks like modern day George Lucas if he was a cop. He tells you you’re working for him now on the racing circuit, and he wants The Adversary, who is the guy at the top of the racing group. You’re given a pretty weak car to start, and you run races to level it up, trying to get good enough to beat The Adversary, taking out smaller bosses or just beating them at the track as you go. This is right along the vein of Death Race as far as story goes, so don’t expect much, just lots of driving and explosions. Now, you can go online with this, but I never got anyone to actually hop into a match with me so I just switched that back off so I didn’t have to wait for anyone to log in with me.
This new version was built originally for the tablet iOS and Android crowd, which, despite some good advances, don’t handle games like this all that well visually. The PC version has some very noticeable tweaks over the Android version, at least, which I tried out just to compare the two, and if you’re going for looks alone, the PC version is worth the upgrade in the garage alone. The graphics are a nice overhaul from the original, and I really like some of the little nods, like your wheels falling off as you take too much damage.
The sounds on the track are pretty decent and match up with what’s going on. The voice work is okay and there’s not much of it. The music is kind of forgettable, due to thumping background noise, so you don’t really notice as you play. You can play this with the sound completely off and get almost the same experience. It does its job and not much more than that. This isn’t the kind of game I was expecting much from in this area though. This game is about racing.
You’ve got two options to control the game with, a controller or the keyboard and mouse. Your mouse really won’t get much of a workout while you’re racing, as that’s all done by keyboard, and I hate to say it, but using the 360 controller with this game turned it from an okay racer with so-so controls to one of my favorite top-downs in a long time. Let me explain: the keyboard really simulates the controls from the tablet, as the directional keys do the work there while the number keys handle your weapons. On the tablet, you had an onscreen stick and buttons on the opposite side for your weapons. The stick and on screen buttons on the tablet worked, but just never feel solid to me at all. If your thumb moves to far off the one side of the screen, the stick goes to dead center and you stop moving, which in a racing combat game is an issue. Seconds count. The keyboard, for me at least, had this issue. It felt almost sluggish with the keys, like I wasn’t getting enough out of the ones I had, which I wasn’t. It’s like that Vin Diesel racing game I reviewed awhile back, Wheelman. You could use the keyboard to drive around, but you were never going to get a good feel for the cars at all until you plugged in a controller to run with. I just happen to have a 360 controller laying around for just this reason and fired it up with Death Rally, and suddenly, my urge to play the game through to completion rose. The analog stick gives you much better control over your car on screen and once you figure out the face button controls, as the game looks like it’s designed to work with just about any plug-in controller, at least from the in-game interface. I don’t have any others to test.
Gameplay really rules the day, as the game is pretty much entirely designed around this and little else. It’s a pretty straight-forward top down racer; where it gets fun is the weapons you have to equip and the different vehicles to unlock, as well as the tracks. You start off with beginner level tracks, and as you level up and unlock new cars and tracks, higher difficulties become available, along with varying tracks and challenges each time you leave your garage to pick a race. There are six weapons to choose from once you get them unlocked, as well as three static upgrades, in the form of mines, a bumper and a scope. Oh, and of course, the standard gun that fires automatically as soon as you’re in sight of something you can shoot and destroy. The cars all handle differently and can improve as you unlock them. Most people are going to find one or two of them fit their race style, and that they’re not going to be good on a few tracks that have more twists and turns unless you pick cars with different qualities for those tracks.
You unlock the parts for the cars and the guns on the tracks as you race, either by destroying crates or other drivers on the tracks. The more you kill, the faster you unlock the new vehicles and weapons, provided you actually pick up the parts on the track as you race by. There’s a lot of variety here which makes it a lot of fun. Once you unlock these parts, you spend your race cash on upgrading your vehicle you used in that race, after you’ve paid to repair it first. So finishing up with less damage is preferred, or you’ll upgrade your cars really slowly. You do occasionally get an offer for help from a random person known as Shadow Man, who takes a portion of your winnings for helping out.
There are eighty seven achievement unlocks in this game. Let me say that again, eighty seven achievement unlocks. They range from finishing first in every difficulty to upgrading weapons and cars fully to taking out the bosses on every track, not just beating them. You get a separate achievement for each. I’ve actually completed all the story missions and effectively upgraded everything and am still around twenty achievements shy. Granted, this is Steam, and it’s all bragging rights, but it’s a great motivator to go back in and clear those others out. The races are short and it loads fast so you can play a quick match easily and be done, so sitting down for a quick game is easy to do too.
Now, as far as balance, I’d say this is about dead on right for this game. Now I know there’s a free version for the Android where you can grind out everything like you do on the PC version and not pay for it, but adding the visual upgrades, the better control, and the Steam connectivity, it’s a solid bit of content not only or the price, but in how you play it that makes this just about perfect. It’s ten dollars for the whole game, and while you do have to drive out to upgrade everything instead of buying that VIP unlock on the Android version, I prefer actually doing it myself. Far more satisfying, and I’m having more fun on this version than the Android one anyway. It took me around seven hours to unlock everything and beat the Adversary, and will probably take another hour or two to unlock the other achievements, so price versus play time is pretty decent as well.
There’s not much going on here for originality. Other than tightening up the controls and giving it a nice graphics polish, not much has changed from the Android version. They took out the power up boosts, and of course, the pay unlocks. Compared to the original PC version there are some new things though. The tracks are different, with some nice call-backs to the original PC game as well as the car names, but the designs have been made a bit more modern than they would be if you look at the ’96 version. The tracks have more variety to them, there are more named racers to battle it out with, and to compare the visuals on this to the ’96 version, well, let’s just say that version hasn’t aged very well.
I like unlocking everything. Those last few trophies I need will keep me playing until I get them. I love being able to pump the racing cash I’ve earned to upgrade my car and weapons, and then of course, after my fame score. You can squeeze a lot of races into an hour too. I really got into this. It controlled well, and for as short as the races are, the held my attention for a long while. On to that, it’s a great port over from the Android and iOS game for a really good price, and you can either relive your nostalgia on a better looking game or get into a new game cheaply and have fun with it, so I’d say there’s some appeal there. Especially since I’d read they’d made back their cost on the development on the mobile version in just a few days, and I think this version should do well too.
I never had this version crash on me, but I did get some screen tearing a few times while I was racing. Tweaking my graphics settings seemed to have fixed that. I did have some issues with Steam when they were having issues connecting up the Community section, where it reset a bunch of my achievements in the game, or at least appeared to. Once that was sorted out, it changed back to my Steam account and all my achievements unlocked properly there. Other than that, the game loads quickly, doesn’t hang, didn’t crash, and had no issues other than what I’d mentioned, which is something I love out of a PC title.
Control and Gameplay: Great
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
For a ten dollar remake of a classic PC title that made its debut on the iOS and Androoid, Death Rally hits all the right notes. It’s a fast paced game that lets the player in and out as much as they like. Want to blow through it in one big eight to ten hour play session, have at it. Want to piece it out over a week or two or longer, that’s okay too. The only thing I don’t like is how awkward it feels to use the keyboard to control after using a 360 controller. There’s a nice variety of tracks, challenges, unlockable cars, weapons, and even what I’m assuming to be a riff on George Lucas as the big bad guy who gets you into this mess at the start of the game. It’s a great remake of the title, runs well and it’s a steal for the price even if you have the free Android version.