Death Rally is a port of Remedy’s 2012 iOS racing/destruction game of the same name. I picked it up on sale for $3.50 and it’s proven to be a good value for the money. The mechanics are absurdly straightforward, the story is so shallow that it borders on pointless, and yet the upgrade system redeems this arcade racer and turns it from something tedious to something genuinely fun and engaging.
The story, such as it is, is that a Joe Arpaio-type sheriff arrests the player, a young punk, for some driving-related mischief and, rather than putting him in a pink dress and sending him to pick up trash along the highway like any normal insane Arizona law-enforcement official, he recruits the maverick to challenge other ne’er-do-wells to deadly races in hopes of luring an archcriminal known as The Adversary out of hiding so that he may be captured or killed. That’s basically it. The story plays out through a total of three cutscenes interspersed among the story missions, which are unlocked as your fame level or upgrades are purchased.
Non-story gameplay consists of selecting from among a group of seven randomly-chosen tracks/difficulty levels or playing a challenge mode race, which generally has a specific objective or vehicle/weapon loadout. If you don’t like the options provided, you can always click the “story” button twice and the computer will present you with a new batch (I personally preferred the “Pit” track because it’s the least twisty and I’m not very good at these kinds of games).
Winning or losing races will grant you varying levels of financial rewards which are used to purchase upgrades. There are six primary weapons to unlock and select from (not counting mines) and each vehicle has three characteristics to enhance (speed, handling, and armor). You get more money for killing your opponents or placing better than sixth (each race features five AI opponents).
Graphics are about what you’d expect from a top-down racer in 2012, neither spectacular nor underwhelming. Sound effects are serviceable and the cutscene voice-acting is atrocious (on purpose, I suspect). The music is limited to what you hear in the main menu, apart from one Poets of the Fall track that plays over the end credits (Remedy must have a long-term licensing deal with that band, as their music was all over the Alan Wake games).
The game is not without its quirks. It will not load in fullscreen by default at your computer’s native resolution, which means you have to take the following steps to resolve this: go to the Settings menu, change the resolution to something lower-than-native, click the “Windowed” button to “No”, and then change the resolution to native. This would be a very trivial point if the game remembered your settings between sessions but it doesn’t, so you’ll be doing this every time you load the game. Your alternative is to play in a window but I wouldn’t recommend it; given the amount of frantic clicking that the gameplay demands, you will inevitably click outside of the window, thereby losing the race for yourself and after you do this a few times, you’ll give up and resign yourself to the above process. The PC controls for the mouse and keyboard work but they’re not great; as with most racing games you’ll want to use a controller and you’re best off with an XBOX controller (unless you enjoy fiddling with things like MotioninJoy). As with many PC games, the controller configuration is very limited and it doesn’t work very well at all with my Logitech Rumblepad 2, although I can generally get the Rumblepad to play well with other racers like Burnout Paradise.
On the whole, though, it’s curiously satisfying to upgrade your vehicles and weaponry and kick ♥♥♥ in random races, which is the essence of this game. I put 13 hours into it, beating the story mode (that Adversary is a tough nut to crack) and getting most (84%) of the achievements in the process; you may get some extra value out of it if you enjoy competitive online multiplayer modes but these generally aren’t my bag. I can say it’s well worth buying, especially if you nab it during a decent sale.