A crooked cop with an exact resemblance to George Lucas pulled my haggard character out of the flaming wreck of a gun-toting dune buggy. I knew then that I wanted to love Death Rally, but all of the problems of the game kept me from enjoying it for long.
Death Rally is pitched as an adaptation of its original release back in the mid ’90s, back when it was developed by Remedy Entertainment. Though it’s already been adapted for smart phones, it’s hard not to be surprised by how well developers Sheepfox and Cornfox & Bros. have made the game look and control, the latter being owed in part to an option for a controller.
Throughout the game, you’ll grind through an ever shuffling assortment of races, challenges, and death matches in order to expand your garage of vehicles and weapons. The guns and upgrades, from flamethrowers to spiked bumpers, all feel meaningfully different. The vehicles, however, eventually require so much laborious grinding of matches for experience to make them available and useful that you’re better off sticking to the few vehicles you get at the beginning.
This grinding is really what brings the game down. Though story missions and stylishly pulpy comic-book cut scenes are unlocked to move the game along, they’re unlocked after so much painfully long grinding that Death Rally’s simplistic action and small assortment of maps just doesn’t hold up very well; this is especially after it can take about an hour of playtime just to get some reminder that there’s actually a prime objective to the gameplay beyond just chasing after a better gun or vehicle.
An intelligently designed multiplayer mode helps give the game some longevity and variety. After enabling online mode in the options, the current match that’s awaiting players will be highlighted on the side of the screen with a countdown. Selecting the match will have you waiting a short while for players and, if no players are found or you’re just done waiting, you can skip the wait and play against the computer AI until the next match. Throughout the first weekend of the game’s launch, I had no problems finding players.
The online fun can be spoiled a bit by players who’ve unlocked the final few vehicles and weapons in the game, ones that can easily out-race other cars or just outright destroy them in a few shots. Even against top players in their rocket launching monster trucks, I was still able to pull out a few wins or decent placings with some smart racing and corner hugging, so it’s good to know that some skill can still nudge out a win against the more experienced players.
Death Rally has some charm. It includes references to other Remedy games as well as outright cameos of people within the games press; it was oddly comical to get a “silence the journalist” Steam achievement for blowing up Gametrailers’ Geoff Keighley, a fellow Canadian that I respect. It’s Death Rally’s charm and enjoyably simple premise that makes me wish I enjoyed it more, but it has its own poorly paced progression system to blame for what would otherwise be a raucous feel-good package at $10 USD.
- Meaningful upgrades and cool weapons
- The game looks good and runs smoothly, with some nice particle and physics effects
- The racing controls well
- Cut scenes are suitably pulpy and well-done
- Online play is well executed
- Story beats are spaced out too far between each other
- The amount of time to get a new vehicle up to par with the ones you have doesn’t feel like it’s worth the effort, at times
- The included assortment of maps and modes, combined with the simple gameplay, really doesn’t hold up across several hours of play time without sufficient incentive.
Note: The PC version of Death Rally, downloaded via Steam, was played for review and was provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Android, iPhone, and iPad.