Before Destruction Derby hit the PlayStation, PC gamers in the 90s knew how to play nasty on illegal races. Back from the gaming nostalgia drawer comes a title that delighted fans like no other. The bad boy of the Micro Machines series came back in the day with great visuals and a good attempt at recreating 3D environments. This iOS remake seems to have taken the direction updating all elements to today's standards keeping the initial gameplay idea intact.
Death Rally [iTunes Link] by Remedy is the remake of the classic top-down racer where you compete against opponents in races with no rules and cars packed with weapons. Unlike first-person racing games where you drive your car using a combination of tilt, acceleration and braking, Death Rally shows its evil heritage with a dual shooter control scheme. You steer with the left pad and shoot with the right one. There is no acceleration and no aiming to complicate things: this is all about quick races and easy to pick up game mechanics.
You are in fact introduced to the control scheme with a playable cinematic introduction that explains briefly the hate and destruction going on in these competitions. Starting with the Bettle-inspired Vagabond, you are left alone to compete and realise that victory has a high price in Death Rally. If you don't make it first, you can still earn a lot of dough for upgrades and unlock more refined cars and weaponry. Racing for cash is what this game is about, regardless of your final position, but finishing first comes with an additional prize.
The first thing that strikes you with Death Rally is the amount of things going on at the same time. Drivers firing at each other with no regret, cars drifting and bumping into crates on the road, power-ups spread along the way and a lot, I seriously mean a lot, of action.
You car is equipped with a standard gun that will fire automatically any time a car is in range. This explains the absence of an aiming system. You can also mount mode advance weapons with limited ammo that you control with the fire button. These range from shotguns, mines, sniper rifles, missiles, laser sight to sharp bumpers. Instead of using cash to purchase them, you will unlock collecting parts during the races and then you can upgrade them with money.
Unlike other games where you have to put some time to unlock all the content, there is a random circuit where you can try out weapons and cars you still haven't unlocked. This only goes for a race, but is a nice teaser to keep you interested.
If all these ingredients sound good to you, the game is dressed with impressive graphics that belong to AAA productions. Textures, lighting effects, explosions are top notch and its great news for iOS gaming that a game that is not necessarily made for hardcore users packs this amount of quality and attention to detail. The game menus and car customisation screens have been designed beautifully and contribute to the overall quality feel of the game.
The cherry on the cake is the quirky cameo of John Gore from Minigore, the Duke Nukem guy and the Mighty Eagle from Angry Birds.
One of the areas I found lacking in Death Rally is the amount of tracks available. Sure, they are all designed nicely with a different theme, but they felt quite limited when you compare them with the circuits included in other racing games. The fact that every race is pretty fast, stresses this point, since you can't be playing over and over the same level for 20 minutes. More tracks have been added in recent App Store updates, but if you are thinking this is Need for Speed, remember it has less than ten circuits.
With this limitation in mind, there is no real progression to follow or areas to complete like in most racing games. Every time you finish a race, the game randomly creates new challenges with different difficulty or objectives, but they are still the same. This set up gives the developer a lot of room for expansion and its definitely tailored towards quick ten minute fixes rather than the whole afternoon playing Death Rally.
The random element in the race challenges also means that the AI is pretty random too. I can't help to think that if this game was out for Nintendo DS it would have some sort of local multiplayer integration. While racing against bots is fun, the whole idea of shooting at other racers is crying for a multiplayer mode. It's the huge leap between playing Mario Kart alone and playing with friends.
Despite these two issues, Death Rally is an excellent effort to bring something new to the App Store. In a crowded gaming space, you don't get many top-down racers, and bringing to life an old IP is a delight for the 25+ gamer. Death Rally combines seriously stunning visuals with gameplay elements that fit iOS owners perfectly. Quick fixes and fast progression to take advantage of all the goodies. Being an Universal app, it is a great option to enjoy and show off your iPad 2, as it has anti-aliasing and runs on 60fps.
If you liked racing games from a third person perspective like the Micro Machines series or the arcade version of Super Off Road, Death Rally takes the genre to a new level. Packed with incredible graphics and fun gameplay, Death Rally can easily become an unmissable game with potential for juicy updates.