Monday, September 13, 2010

"No One Touches the Adversary's Vehicle and Lives..."

Next up, I've decided to switch gears and focus on some classic PC gaming with one of my favorites, Death Rally.

Holy FUCK driving through fire is awesome.

Death Rally was a great racing game developed by Remedy and published in 1996 by Apogee (3D Realms), the same company that published some super badass shareware titles by idSoftware like Wolfenstein3D and Commander Keen, as well as developing classics Duke Nukem in 1991 and Duke Nukem 2 in 1993, back before good ol' Duke was even in 3D (yes, seriously! Duke was a sidescroller back in the day!).

Yes, this is really what it looked like...and it's STILL more fun than most new games.

Death Rally really is a damned fun game, and super satisfying to boot. Let's take a closer look at this frenetic fireball of awesome.

Story: N/A

The story in this game, just as with Turtles in Time, is largely meaningless. For some reason or another, you're involved in a series of races to the death, ultimately leading up to a match with The Adversary, the baddest racer on the block. To put it simply, you race or you die.

Graphics: 8/10

The graphics in this game aren't exactly mind-blowing, but they certainly get across exactly what the game means to get across. It's a top-down view of cars racing around various tracks, with the camera placed close enough to see the cars but not close enough to see the drivers.

All of the bullets and explosions look as you would expect from a game developed in 1996: adequate, but not phenomenal. The different cars you can purchase all look distinct enough that you'll never really get confused who's driving what car.

Gameplay: 8/10

When it comes to gameplay, Death Rally is, quite literally, a blast. The game starts you off with almost nothing. You get $500 and a car called the Vagabond, a really super shitty slow beast that looks just like an old VW Beetle. The goal is to go through a series of races, always with 4 cars including you, doing whatever you can to come in first place. Weapons are not only allowed, but encouraged (but for you racing purists/pacifists, there is an option to play with no guns--but why would you want to?). As you race, you gain points, moving yourself up in rankings. When you finally do get to 1st in the rankings, you end up racing the Adversary, and only when you beat him do you truly win. As you race, you also get cash, to be used primarily for upgrading your current car's tires, engine, and armor, or even buying a better car and starting the process over. You can also get cash by picking up little icons that randomly appear on the racetracks.

Speaking of icons, the track is also littered with all sorts of other goodies. See, Death Rally, if you couldn't pick up from the name, isn't your average racer. You have a set amount of machine gun bullets to start with and other weapons like mines are able to be purchased before each race. You can also purchase spikes for the front of your car as well as sabotages of the other racers' vehicles, making them start out with less than 100% armor. Around the track, there are cash icons, bullet refills for your main gun(s), turbo icons that make you go faster for a brief period, and mines dropped by your bastardly opponents.

For each race, you have the choice of difficulty. The only thing that changes between difficulties is the car the opponent racers use: in easy, they drive really slow, shitty cars, just like you start with, and as the difficulty goes up, so does the quality of their cars. The game will even tell you what cars you should use for what difficulty. With the increase in difficulty also comes an increase in rewards if you win.

The only downside to this whole scheme is the ranking system. Eventually, you'll get to a point where you have the best car (the Deliverator - it seriously wails) with all the upgrades and more money than you know what to do with, but you still won't be in first place, so you still have to keep doing races until you finally get there. This can get super tedious after a while. If you can manage to plow through it and make it to the top, you get to race the Adversary. This fucker is HARD. Every time I've beaten this game, I've gotten to a point where I can easily finish a hard race a lap ahead of every other car, but no matter what, the Adversary takes me more than 10 tries to beat. The track you race him on is very straightforward, just one large oval, but if you miss a single turbo icon on the track or tap a lamppost, you WILL lose. Persist, though, and fame and glory will be your reward.

Sound: N/A

To be completely honest, it's been a while since I've played Death Rally, but from what I recall, there is no music. Now, this could mean one of two things: 1) there really isn't any music, or 2) the music is so ambient/backgroundy, it's meaningless. My guess is it's #2, but trust me, the music's nothing phenomenal. Either way, music won't be a huge priority playing this game. The sound I remember most strongly, though, is the sound of crashing into a mine, usually one that I laid and forgot about.

Replay Value: 7/10

This is a game I've gone back to several times to replay through, mostly because it's so easy to jump into and get started. There's no huge incentive to replay through the game other than how damned fun it is to breeze through a few races here and there. One thing that might keep you coming back, though, is a counter that shows how many races you've done before you made it to the Adversary. The score I have on my list I posted several posts back isn't my highest score (lowest races to Adversary), and it's really not even a great one, either. If you get a chance to check this game out, shoot for less than 50. It's tough, but it can be done. Overall, this is a good one to play through once every 2 years or so since it doesn't take too long to finish.

Added Bonus:

As an added bonus, in 2009, a programmer named Jari Komppa got in touch with the developer of the original game, Remedy, and expressed an interest in making Death Rally open source. Although they couldn't reach an agreement, Jari downloaded the source code and began tweaking it to convert Death Rally to be able to run on modern operating systems. Sure enough, the game was released as freeware. Give it a download here: Freeware Death Rally

All things considered, Death Rally was one of a great line of games made by Remedy, and one of a great line of games published by Apogee/3DRealms. It's totally worth checking won't cost you anything but time.

Tell Sam Speed and Jane Honda I said, "Hi," while you're there.


  1. This...actually looks good. I may have to play this one.

    Love the reviews so far and keep up the good work!

  2. I totally beat this one! Er, up until expert mode. Note: you unintentionally used a pun ("switch gears"). Also, there was sound/music, but you're right, it wasn't that great. The sound of the little people on the track getting run over was pretty cool.

  3. Looks impressive for 1996. I likely will not play this game though, but the upgrades idea interests me enough (until, like you said, towards the end where there's nothing you can improve upon and still have a good chance to lose the race).

  4. There WAS music! Awesome music, to say the least! It might be something about your ears, dude! :)