Inspired by the 1996 release of the same name, Death Rally is a collaborative remake from Remedy Entertainment, creators of the Max Payne series and Alan Wake, and Mountain Sheep (upcoming Hardgore game, Minigore) that has you driving and attacking other competitors in a race to the death. As with the PC original, the game is still played from a top-down perspective and allows you to upgrade your car with better speed, handling and a variety of weapons such as sniper rifles, a rocket launcher, shotgun, and many others as you win races and collect money. Your objective is to come in first, even if it means blowing the other racers off the road. Heck, ESPECIALLY if it means blowing other racers off the track.
One thing you’ll notice right away is that the game looks great on both the iPhone/iPod Touch (better yet with the Retina Display) and iPad, though you’ll need at least a third-generation device to enjoy them. Small details like vehicular damage and particle effects are things you wouldn’t normally expect on an iOS game, yet they’re all here and they look really good running at a consistently smooth framerate that never lets up. There’s also plenty of details on the five tracks you get to race on, from dusty deserts to city highways, each clearly designed with a painstaking eye for detail that isn’t lost on the smaller screens.
Folks will like that individual races take no more than a few minutes, which makes the game perfect for sneaking in a quick fix while waiting in line, taking public transportation, etc. (I’d avoid playing at the DMV, however). Even better is its charitable view on upgrades; win or lose and you’ll still be rewarded with cash to upgrade your vehicle. You can also snatch collectibles (including Steroids) in the middle of the race to unlock new vehicles and weapons, giving yet another reason to come back for more.
Another treat, especially for alert fans of both the original game and developers Remedy even GT Interactive, are fun cameos from other games, including Alan Wake and Duke “Hail to the King, Baby” Nukem himself. Is that an Angry Bird I see in there…?
Now for my gripes, which include the controls and the camera, both of which have that funky, R.C. Pro-Am feel that constantly change depending on which direction your vehicle is facing. Combined with the sensitive touchscreen analog stick, this can make for some really frustrating gameplay. True, this is similar to the original game, but you’ll still find yourself getting caught by the aerial camera, which is zoomed in way too close, making it difficult see when the next turn is coming. Since there’s no mini-map, the only alternative is to memorize the tracks and focus on the combat itself. There is an option to orient the camera on your vehicle instead, but even this does little to address real issue with trying to juggle the extreme zoomed-in perspective and slippy controls. Even after playing a track a few times, I still found myself crashing into walls because of blind corners.
There’s also the fact of only having five tracks to race on can quickly get old, especially as you’ll be racing solo – there’s no multiplayer (either Bluetooth or online) at this point. The tracks do support the old ‘variety trick’, in which you’ll get to race on them with different variations, such as reversed and rotated perspective, but there’s no getting around the fact that you’re still racing on the same tracks. To their credit, Remedy has said that both of these issues will most likely be addressed in a future update, but until then it looks like you’ll just have collecting every in-game achievement and online leaderboard boasting to look forward to.
Death Rally could’ve been a fun little game to play on iOS devices, but fails to cross the finish line due to wonky controls, a bad camera, lack of multiplayer, and limited tracks to race on. Still, the game certainly looks outstanding and runs smooth on capable iDevices, and fans will appreciate the subtle nods to the original PC classic and quick-access feel of the races and upgradability options for the vehicles. Unfortunately, there’s not much to do once you’ve mastered the five tracks and fully decked out your ride, and not having any multiplayer options will probably limit its long-term appeal to only the most obsessive of fans. Remedy is promising to address these issues in a much-needed update in the future, and those thinking of picking this one up may want to wait until they do.
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