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Death Rally (2012) (PC) review: Death Rally (2012) (PC)

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Variety is sorely lacking. Races are quick, uninteresting loops around boring urban and rural terrain. You get the odd spicy moment when a mysterious stranger offers to sabotage enemies for half of your winnings, when you get to drive one of the high-powered cars for a single race for some cash, or when one of the villains challenges you to a race. But these little things just lead to running the same old regular race that you normally would. Visuals are fairly good but are lacking in fine detail and are plagued by problems such as the "name" rival in every race always getting his photo onscreen beside his car, which blocks out part of the track.

The camera work isn't great, either. The default view is just high enough to obscure corners in some circuits, while the lower chase camera swivels around so much that you just might be getting a second look at that omelet you had for breakfast before you cross the finish line. The big highlights are dirt and ice, which make your car spin out more than normal on turns. Even with these thrilling additions to the repertoire, there is nothing memorable about any of the tracks featured here. Unlike in better arcade racers, tracks don't have defining features--you never remember a desert loop as "the one with that killer curve" or an arctic one with "that crazy ice cliff." All of the tracks are as forgettable as porridge, aside from maybe the jungle one where you race over crashed aircraft.

Tracks also feel jammed together. Turns are so close that you don't have much chance to get up a good head of steam. As a result, the sense of speed so necessary to a good arcade racer is almost completely MIA. You can get a bit of a rush with smart applications of the nitro boost, but that's it. Carnage is also hard to find. While a game where you mount cannons atop your hood should offer lots of bloody excitement, blowing up opponents can be quite frustrating. Most enemy cars are incredibly resistant to damage from your wimpy default gun, and your special, more powerful weapons come with small amounts of ammunition. You get maybe a half-dozen blasts with your shotgun or Gatling gun, for instance, before coming up with empty clicks whenever you hit the fire button.

Progression through the game when playing either career mode or single races is nothing more than a big grind. You spend a ton of time racing over and over again on the same handful of sleep-inducing tracks, slowly building your fame and taking forever to unlock something new like a track or a car or even a weapon. There is a thin layer of role-playing-lite career progression in that you collect parts during races to unlock new rides and new weapons. They are either scattered randomly or earned through kills. But it takes forever to get anywhere. Cars and weapons have to be built one part at a time, and you generally collect no more than one or two parts per race toward some piece of hardware that needs 15 or 25 or more parts to be fully assembled. You'll be racing a good long while before you're driving the souped-up Wraith or Interceptor, for instance.

Even worse, you have to blow all of your winnings right after each race. You either dump every cent into immediate car repairs and buffs to key components like speed, armor, handling, and weapons, or lose it. No trips to the local ATM for you. The game actually rubs it in with a vacuum-like sound effect that plays when your cash is sucked up for absolutely nothing if you've maxed out the available upgrades and can't spend any more. Cash lost this way winds up boosting your fame score, which apparently helps move the story along in some fashion as you level up and earn ranks. Still, having to wrap every race penniless kills any chance to strategize, since you can't save up to buy the Gatling gun of your dreams or a killer new car.

Arcade racers generally need to have an on-the-edge atmosphere where death can come at any moment via bullet or screwing up a turn. This new take on Death Rally, however, is more like riding with Miss Daisy, a genteel, distant driver as intense as a late-night cup of chamomile tea. There are just too many flaws here, with the flimsy controls, dreary tracks, and eternal grinding, for even the most desperate arcade gearhead to get anything out of this game.

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