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Death Rally

The long desert road seems to go on forever. The Sun’s heat makes the last visible remnants of this straight path to salvation dance in the air, like some snake hypnotised by the sirens of a dozen police cars. Yes, the police. They’ve been following you for days now. Checking the gas meter, a sigh escapes your lips. Wonderful, it’s nearly empty.

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Your ears twitch as something large can be heard firing in close from behind. Looking in your windscreen mirror, you realise there’s only the briefest of moments before an incoming RPG takes you out. Shot down and pulled from the wreckage, you’re lucky to be alive. Or so the saying goes, as it isn’t the case this time. Caught by the police you’re offered one chance at survival: become the crooked cop’s racer in the nation’s favourite past time: Death Rally.

Thrown into the world of Death Rally with a beaten up husk of a car, there’s no chance of winning. Instead, you’ll need to grind your way to victory, saving every penny to kit up your vehicle and win a ticket home. In Death Rally six contestants take part in a three lap race. Each man (or woman) brings their own four-wheeled titan to the event. There is no hand-me downs or freebies. You ride what you build.

You drive with one circular control stick. Aim in the direction you want to drive, and hey presto, off you go. There’s one set speed and the standard machine gun automatically fires when something crosses your line of sight. This lets your concentration focus on keeping on track and winning the race.

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Your primary weapon can be fired by an additional button, while extra ammo and other items can be found in the wooden boxes that litter the courses. As you can only move at one speed it’s hard to win any races early on; your car’s a piece of crap and the best you can do is tail the car in 5th position and hope your machine gun fire takes them out before the race ends. This early difficulty curve as you scrape together your first earnings may put some players off.

Hail to the King

As this article was submitted the latest update was released. This included a new race: Duke Match. Yes, you get to go face-to-face with Duke Nukem, trying to take out the other racers and obtain as many frags as possible in the allotted time limit. This is a strong sign that further content and races will be released.

It gives the illusion that the controls are poorly implemented and unrefined, when it’s more the speed and lack of balancing in the enemy A.I. To maintain a maximum speed you need to keep on the track surface; hit the edges or the side terrain and you’ll slow down. It’s inevitable that you’ll veer off now and then, but the main racer never does. This means catching them is a rarity, even with your much adored ride being maxed out in the speed department. In fact, I got into higher positions by eliminating the opposition, rather than out manoeuvring them on the race track.

The moment of truth came upon changing the camera. The second viewpoint is placed at an angle behind the car, so holding up would always drive forward at the expense of your visibilty. Moving the camera was a game changer, winning me my first race and making sense of the one finger controls.

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As you put rubber to the race track, additional weapon and vehicle parts can be collected. Once you’ve obtained a complete set, you may attach the new weapon or accessory, or even begin to invest in a new vehicle. To encourage players to try out new rides there are set limits on how much tuning and improvements can be done. Take the hit on those races and then use the prize money to seriously improve your game.

After every race you’ll be allotted prize money based upon your performance. The higher the ranking, the more money that’s rewarded and there are bonuses for beating the boss, taking out other rivals and more. Then you can spend this fixing or tuning your vehicle. Speed, handling, armour and weapon efficiency can be invested in. The choice is yours, or you can auto-fill, letting the computer spend the cash where it’s needed the most.

The complete absence of a map means you have to learn the tracks through repeated plays. Some paths do feature signposts, but the camera makes the turns difficult to judge. There’s also no signal of how far other racers are behind you. The more advance races, with some interesting design (including driving over a crashed plane), are often let down by narrow tracks. Without one of the better vehicles you’ll often run off the road, leaving you once again chasing the rest of the way.

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Thankfully, your next race is never determined for you. All the unlocked tracks are available for you to choose, with one-off challenges occasionally becoming available. This means the player can be in control of what maps they wish to replay, avoiding any that causes a headache. This simple design choice makes some of the flaws acceptable. You’re a newcomer and struggling to advance from the bottom to the top is part of the sport.

Powerups – hidden in wooden crates – are dotted around the tracks to help tip the balance and make the sport even more dangerous. Often consumed in the first lap leaving no last second help or surprises, the remaining wooden crates can be difficult to destroy. At times you’ll batter the box with machinegun fire, ram it and it’ll simple bounce off, remaining intact. This is infuriating when you know that one extra powerup could make the difference between third and first place.

However, the weapons themselves are satisfying to use. Dropping back and unleashing a volley of missiles on the two drivers that have been hot on your tail for the past few corners is a lot of fun. There are mines, sniper rifles and more to be unlocked and levelled up. A VIP pass can be bought through micro-transactions, spoiling the player with 150% extra bonuses at the end of each race, and early unlocks of a vehicle and track. In other words, you have to pay extra to unlock the Easy mode.

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When I finally beat the man I’d been sent after it didn’t bring an ending as expected. My prize was being sent back to the garage to carry on as if nothing had happened. With an in-game God fame reached and 173% of the game complete there was no end cutscene. With an introduction and mid-point short story it set the scene for some closure, but it never came, and a sense of disappointment soon replaced it.

Death Rally plays like it should – a descendant of the original Death Rally from ’97. The old-school approach works for the most part, but can be awkward when it comes to mastering the controls and learning the race tracks. For straight up action, this is definitely one of the better iOS titles available.

Review based on version 1.5

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Deputy Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in December 2010. Get in touch on Twitter @shaneryantb.

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