Revisit those thrilling days of yesteryear in Remedy Entertainment's Death Rally, a remake of the company's fondly remembered top-down arcade racer from 1996. Unfortunately, it takes less time than you can think "Wow, that's from way back when we still played PC games in DOS!" before you realize that this reboot--which first arrived on iOS and Android platforms last year--is a reject. Simplistic controls, grinding gameplay, and a dull career mode make for a sleepy racer that isn't worth even the $10 price tag.
Pictures don't tell the whole story here, as Death Rally actually looks kind of exciting in most screenshots.
Basic gameplay is in the same ballpark as the original Death Rally. You drive a car through murderous races set in various vaguely postapocalyptic wastelands, shooting boxes that contain various power-ups like nitro speed boosts, extra ammo, and cash, all while blasting away at enemies. The goal is to either beat the baddies to the finish line in races, killing them in the process or simply roaring past them, or to blow them all up early and often in deathmatches. Solo play and multiplayer are supported, although there doesn't seem to be a big audience playing online at present. And that's pretty much it. Virtually everything beyond these core elements of the game has only been roughed in, as if you're playing a test concept demo.
Career mode is weak. You start off abruptly in a deathmatch-style race where you're told to escape from the cops, which leads you to believe that you can win this race. But you can't. That's confusing enough, but then Tex--a George Lucas doppelganger--steps out of the lead cop car and immediately orders you to compete in an underground Death Rally circuit. There you must beat and kill bad guys in races and face off against some Speed Racer-looking dude called the Adversary when he shows up.
It's all baffling. Why exactly the evil cops are going after this guy is a complete mystery, and there is no set progression through the campaign from race to race. There is a whole roster of bad guys, too, although none are given any personality beyond goofy names like Randy Wreck and less-than-inventive catchphrases such as "You drive like a maniac!" and the always entertaining "Shut up!" (Depressingly, these lines are the most memorable sound effects in the entire game, and that's solely because they are so aggravating.)
At first, this Southern-sheriff punishment sounds better than breaking rocks in the hot sun down Georgia way. It soon turns out that you might want to swap places with Cool Hand Luke, though. Vehicle controls are sloppy and uninvolving. The game is just about unplayable with the default keyboard setup; it's tough to handle cars through corners. Even using a gamepad feels mushy and distant. It doesn't help matters that acceleration is handled with the left stick instead of buttons or the triggers. Racing feels removed, more like you're riding shotgun than sitting behind the wheel. Even firing your default main gun is automatic whenever an enemy or a power-up-containing box is lined up in your sights.
Variety is sorely lacking. Races are quick, uninteresting loops around boring urban and rural terrain. You get the odd spicy moment when a mysterious stranger offers to sabotage enemies for half of your winnings, when you get to drive one of the high-powered cars for a single race for some cash, or when one of the villains challenges you to a race. But these little things just lead to running the same old regular race that you normally would. Visuals are fairly good but are lacking in fine detail and are plagued by problems such as the "name" rival in every race always getting his photo onscreen beside his car, which blocks out part of the track.