It May Be Your Last Race: Death Rally Review (PC)
This game was reviewed on PC
Death Rally originally graced computers way back when in 1996, and its mayhem and lethality made it a much-loved classic. Sixteen years later, Death Rally comes roaring back onto the PC, promising a return to the brutal pandemonium that the original dished out. This top down racer has oodles of potential, and a list of features that look fantastic on paper. However, once you’re in the driver’s seat, you may find that the game can’t quite live up to its potential.
No matter what you have to say about Death Rally, you can’t deny that it is a beautiful game. The tracks are gorgeous, with elaborate backgrounds, clear gameplay elements such as power-ups and health bars, and brightly coloured cars that mean you never find yourself lost in confusion in the middle of a race. It’s easy to tell the arc of your weapons, meaning combat in this game isn’t an exercise in futility. When an enemy driver is important to the mission, a small picture will appear above his car that alerts you to his presence without distracting from the racing.
The music sounds like it belongs in a big budget blockbuster. The soundtrack invokes the 2012 version of Total Recall, or the first installment of the Mass Effect series. Destroying an enemy racer’s vehicle causes a satisfying explosion, and when you’re at low health the game sounds an alarm that gives the player a good sense of tension, fuelling you to fight harder to be first to the finish.
However, actually playing the game is a struggle. The controls are sloppy and slippery. Driving the car feels like the track is made of ice coated in Vaseline; every turn becomes a fight for control as you slide far away from your intended destination. This leads to many frustrating moments where you fall far behind the rest of the competition. Unlike in Mario Kart, there is no merciful game mechanic to lift you out of trouble. The tracks are labelled with their difficulty – ‘beginner,’ ‘easy,’ ‘medium’ and so on, but I could never tell the difference between the tracks’ difficulty. They were all tricky to play and filled with frustrating turns and twists. This made the difficulty rating system essentially useless.
The entire game is a grind. Playing a round will give you rewards in the form of cash, which you can spend on upgrading your car’s attributes (speed, handling, and armour). While grinding experience for upgrades isn’t necessarily a bad game mechanic, Death Rally doesn’t provide the player with any satisfying results. After increasing the speed and handling on my starting vehicle to the maximum amount, I still slid around the track at a snail’s pace. The game also expects you to start with very little and grind your way to new weapons and vehicles. It felt like the wait between upgrades was far too long and the new weapons didn’t have enough of a change to justify the time spent to obtain them. Worse yet, if you don’t spend the cash you earn between rounds, the game takes it all away from you. There’s even a vacuum sound to really drive the loss home. You can’t save up for the upgrade of your dreams or long-term plan; you’re forced to blow everything as soon as you get your hands on it or lose it for good. There’s no strategy to spending your rewards, making the upgrade part of the game more of a chore than anything.
While a plotline is a great way to get players emotionally invested in the race and their opponents, Death Rally flubs the Career mode hard. The opening stage begins with the order to “escape from the cops!”. However, it is impossible to flee; the player is hunted down immediately. While this isn’t a terrible beginning, the game traps you in with invisible walls, making what could be a fun and frenetic chase confusing and annoying. The police chief tells you, devouring scenery as he goes, that as a punishment for your myriad of crimes you will now take place in the Death Rally. It’s difficult to actually advance this scant storyline, as the conditions for advancement are perplexing and vague.
Even with the ten dollar price tag, Death Rally has many flaws and problems. The game does have some merits, but most of them lie in the polish and gloss of the game and not its actual gameplay. If you’re a fan of racers and have a great amount of patience, Death Rally may appeal to you, but with the amount of cheap games on the market now, you may want to consider spending the ten dollars somewhere else.
Death Rally earns a 3.75/5.
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