Death Rally iOS Review

Back in 1996, Remedy Entertainment hit the game development scene with Death Rally, a top-down PC racer with guns. It was a good time, and Remedy went on to do more cool things because of its success: namely, Max Payne.

It has been 15 years, and Remedy has returned missile launchers to the sides of Death Rally cars, only this time, it’s on a different platform. The company has re-relased Death Rally on Apple’s iPhone and iPad, with updated graphics that support the former’s Retina display, touch controls, and support from Apple’s online Game Center network. The whole experience is solid and a lot of fun, although on the whole, Death Rally gets a little bit repetitive after about 10 minutes.


Death Rally (IPhone [Reviewed], PC)
Developer: Mountain Sheep
Publisher: Remedy
Release Date: March 31, 2011
MSRP: $0.99

Controls in Death Rally are beautifully simple. You pick your car at the outset — starting with a quick but thinly armored offering — then choose a race, all of which have an outlined difficulty. Then you’re racing; Death Rally’s events all load ludicrously quickly, kicking you into a six-racer event within seconds.

Each race includes four computer-controlled racers that are all driving the other unlockable car types, plus a named boss racer. The boss is substantially better than the other racers, and it’ll be rare that he or she doesn’t take the top spot in each event, especially early on. Among the bosses are characters like Barry Wheeler of Remedy’s Alan Wake, Duke Nukem and John Gore from the popular iOS game Minigore.

Your car is equipped with a light machine gun that you always have access to, and in this firs trace, it’s all you have. It slowly does damage to enemy racers, all of whom have a life bar hovering over their cars as you race. Put enough rounds into them and they’ll catch fire and drop out of the race — take too much damage yourself and you’ll explode similarly, getting kicked out to the start screen to choose another event.

Races are generally filled with pick-ups. Crates litter the tracks, which do double duty, slowing racers down if they hit them but dispensing things like money, nitro boosts and ammo refills if they’re destroyed. Also mixed throughout the tracks are parts to new weapons and cars that you can collect in order to unlock new upgrades.

Death Rally is really all about money — you earn it for completing races and destroying other racers, for picking it up on tracks, and for beating a race’s boss. After a race, money is spent on upgrading cars to make them faster and stronger and handle better. Weapons can also be upgraded to carry more shots and do more damage.

The primary draw of Death Rally is completionism, since there are lots of cars and weapons to upgrade substantially. Right now, Death Rally includes five different cars, each with three upgrade categories, and five weapons with nine upgrade levels each. That’s a lot of money you’ll need to earn to hit 100 percent completion, which is tracked on a bar that fills up slowly on the left side of the screen between events, and that couple with Death Rally’s simple and engaging race play is enough to make the game fairly addictive.

But while Death Rally’s races will keep players coming back for more for at least a few days, things have a tendency to get repetitive. No matter what the event or which of the six or so tracks, every race boils down to doing your best to keep up with the boss and, if you’re lucky, kill or pass him. Occasionally you’ll get access to challenge levels with head-to-head races or that require you to use a particular weapon (or none at all), but even so, it’s all more of the same.

Death Rally is fun, but it’s severely lacking in tracks, especially when compared to the number of races you’ll realistically run. Before long, you’ll know every course well enough to win consistently on most difficulties, and while Remedy was smart and changes things up by occasionally rotating things or making your run the track backwards, it’s still a lot of the same thing, over and over again. Achievements encourage you to kill all the bosses and cause other forms of mayhem, and they’re engaging for a bit — but it’s more than likely Death Rally won’t hold your strong attention for more than about a weekend.

The real trouble is that there’s just not a lot of variety to the gameplay, or much in the way of incentive to keep playing. Unlocking cars and weapons is fun for a bit, but before long, you run out of things to accomplish. Then there’s just Fame, Death Rally’s persistent scoring system, which you can dump your race money into to increase your traction on Game Center’s leaderboards. But that’s about it.

Remedy is planning additional updates — one with a new car and two new weapons is imminent — and that will eventually include more tracks and a multiplayer mode. Those are things desperately needed by this game; multiplayer would totally change my opinion of Death Rally and elevate it from a decent, well-made game to (potentially) a must-own iPhone app.

Until the updates come around, however, Death Rally remains a solid way to spend $5 without really outshining other games in the App Store. It’s certainly not a waste of money and it looks great and handles well on the iPhone. There’s just not a lot of substance to go with all that style.

Pros:

  • Addictive, fun top-down racer
  • Lots of cars and items to upgrade and improve
  • Boss characters include cool cameos like Duke Nukem
  • Longevity squeezed from tracks by rotating them
  • Solid touch controls
  • High-quality graphics
  • Shooting other racers — always cool

Cons:

  • Repetitive gameplay — racers always act the same, races always play out the same
  • Not a lot of difference between “challenges” and regular events
  • Not nearly enough tracks or variety
  • Seems incomplete with multiplayer (coming in a future update)

Final Score: 78/80

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