Death Rally is a top-down arcade/combat racing title that places emphasis on enjoyment rather than advanced 3D visuals or superb depth. Up to four gamers can blast off machine guns and drop mines to sabotage competitors as they speed around 19 unique racecourses. There are six different vehicles from which to choose, and each car can be upgraded by purchasing new engines, armor, and wheels from an in-game store.
Death Rally is a top-down racing game where the player can rely on more than speed to be the number one, and brains must be riding along brawn to get the most from each race.
Starting with only $495 and a lowly car, the player must compete in one of three races (picked from 19 tracks) with increasingly difficult opponents but higher rewards, getting enough money to buy new cars, choosing from six models, and enhance them with one to four upgrades for engine (increase top speed), tires (improve traction, allowing to drift less on turns) and armor (reduces the damage caused by opponents, mines or collisions). But there are more ways to spend money by reaching the underground market where the player can buy land mines (can be dropped to get opponents directly behind or create traps in narrow sections), get some rocket fuel (which increases boost speed greatly at the expense of some damage for both the user car and the ones directly behind) or bribe a mechanic to mess around with the best-ranked opponent car. All these upgrades are valid for one race only.
The race varies in length depending on the difficulty chosen, but follow the same structure: four drivers with the starting grid set according to the championship table, with the worst placed starting in front and so on, and the first to cross the line after the stipulated number of laps wins or the last driver standing wins. At the same time, the fourth place driver gets no points and no money, including pick up bonuses, and lapped drivers get the same luck. The player can use a booster to increase speed for a few seconds, but once the reserve is depleted, the player has to wait it replenishes or pick up icons scattered on the track. Similar items appear to replenish ammo, repair the car or give small money bonuses. Occasionally, large money and repair items appear, which provide a much larger bonus.
Along the money earned in races, there are several bonuses if the player manages to wipe out all competition, complete the race without a scratch or completing a streak of wins, or accepting certain missions for some sponsors, such as collecting steroids and win the race or destroy an opponent. The value of these bonus changes according to the car: a bonus with the Vagabond can be worth as little as $650, but with the Deliverator a mission can be worth 12 grand, regardless of the race selected.
The ultimate goal is to top the championship table, and then defeat the Adversary in a special track.
This game is not only about racing, but also about fighting for money and fame. These fights are often to the death - the death of your opponents (if you are lucky).
As you have probably figured out, Death Rally is more than just a regular racing game. It consists of a few different elements: racing, shooting, and pimping your vehicle. Each of these elements is really well made and entertaining.
You begin your racing career with a slow car and a few dollars in your pocket to repair it after the first race. Your goal is to get to the top rank. Before each race, you need to choose one of the three difficulty tiers. In the higher tiers, your opponents will ride inside better cars, but the prize money after the race shall be much higher. After a few tries, you'll figure out the best place to earn money, whether an easy challenge with a small reward, or a high-stakes race.
Your hard-earned money can be spent on better cars or simple improvements to the vehicle you are currently driving. There are six cars available, and each one can have its armor, engine, and tires upgraded to a certain level. I noticed that each time I changed my car, some of the opponents did the same, so buying a better vehicle does not mean the game will be easier. Between shopping and racing, you can always visit the underground market - a place to obtain some elements for dirty fighting: mines, spikes on the car's bumper, that kind of stuff. It's not cheap, but it can give you an advantage in the next race.
During the races, there are many elements you need to be aware of; apart from staying on the track and trying to get to the finish line first. First, you and your opponents can shoot each other, and too much damage can eliminate a car from the race. Computer-controlled players always start with no damage, but you will have to pay to repair yours. Also worth noting are the elements you can pick up on the streets: money, some repairing tools, and drug-mushrooms. Combine these with mines, and you have to carefully look under your wheels to see whether there's a bonus nearby or a destructive item.
If you are lucky, someone will give you an extra mission before the race. It always pays well if completed, but the "quest-givers" are powerful people, and they can make you pay if you fail. There are also special rewards if you do something out of the ordinary during the race, such as destroying all of your opponents - being the last living person on the track.
The game's technical aspects are also really good. The music and sound effects do not get boring after hours of gameplay, and I have to admit I like to listen to the soundtrack even while not playing the game. The graphics are shown in 2D with some three-dimensional elements on the sides of the tracks - it's nothing fancy, but nothing more is needed in a top-down view.
The freeware version is playable on newer Windows systems without any emulation needed, but one thing is missing: the multiplayer option. It's available only in the original DOS edition, which currently is still being sold by the publisher.
All in all, this is a really good game. I recommend this title to every player; no matter what genre you like the most, you should play Death Rally. With a lot of action, some managerial elements, random encounters, and a "just one more race" addiction, it is truly one of the gems of gaming history!
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