Core Developer Remedy Tries Its Hand at iOS Games with Death Rally

Remedy Entertainment is a Finnish game developer that’s mostly focused on core console games like Max Payne, Alan Wake and the original Death Race. Now the company has turned toward iOS (both the iPhone and iPad) with a remake of Death Rally, the racing game originally launched in 1996. Released March 31st, the game has been on our backburner for a bit, until we had ample time to really look at it. The game did not disappoint.

With the first few days of its launch, Death Rally rose up to #9 on the top paid apps list for iPad. In fact, that same version even broke into the top grossing apps list at #26. A top-down racer, its play is most comparable to the Twisted Metal franchise. But the game comes with a very different feel and a focus on racing and upgrades instead of characters. It translates well to mobile devices, but its controls can be frustrating at first.

Players start off the game being chased by police, who drive cars mounted with machine guns. After a short chase sequence which the player inevitably loses, they are arrested and recruited to draw out another criminal called “The Adversary” via the Death Rally race tournament. Unfortunately, that’s about all the story we actually saw.

After the initial prologue, players are granted a basic vehicle, and a handful of different race tracks to choose from. Each track has a distinctly different look to it, ranging from the inner city to the desert wastelands. Each circuit is relatively short, with the first person to complete three laps being the winner.

It sounds simple enough, but there are a few catches to it. For starters, this racer is top down and controlled in the same manor as a dual-stick shooter. You’re likely going to come in dead last for a fair number of races. Thankfully, the relatively low number of maps and shortness of each one makes them fairly easy to memorize, allowing the user to quickly improve their standings. The other catch is that even after a couple dozen races, the only indicator of progress was nothing more than some progress and experience bars showing a “Fame” level, which is basically a display of rank (e.g. rookie, amateur, etc.)

While one might think the low number of maps is a significant detriment, it’s actually not one that comes to the forefront right away. This is because of the second catch. Players aren’t just racing. Remember the mounted machine guns? Well, every vehicle in the race has one, so not only do users have to worry about the course, but getting shot at as well as they can and will get destroyed. Of course, this means the player gets to shoot back as well, and using the right virtual “stick,” players can fire off whatever weapon they currently have equipped (by default, all cars have a basic machine gun in addition to equipped weaponry).

This is where the addictiveness factor comes into play. As players race, they will often find power-ups and items scattered about the map. Some might be parts for new unlockable cars, others might be new weapons, and others might be just plain cash. Along with these, players earn fiscal bonuses for how well they do in a race, whether or not they beat a “boss” racer (it’s just a slightly better driver in the race, whose car has a character portrait), or how many cars they kill. With these, players can upgrade their vehicle’s speed, armor, handling, and best of all, their weaponry.

With arsenals ranging from shotguns, to missiles, to spiked bumpers, it is surprisingly gratifying to destroy opponents in the lead rather than simply try and pass them. Part of this is because the game actually looks fantastic on the iOS, and with each race track littered with destructible boxes and gas canisters, the experience is highly volatile feeling and actually somewhat exciting. Well, as exciting as a mobile game can be anyway.

Nevertheless, the low number of maps will eventually get repetitive (even though Remedy does fight this by occassionally rotating maps or having players race in the opposite direction), and once a car is fully upgraded, a lot of the gratification of shooting up enemy cars is lost. All the same, it is still a ton of fun up until that point, making it well worth the $2.99 price tag.

As for any other points of merit, the game does add a bit of longevity through Game Center with its standard collection of achievements and leaderboards. More than this, however, the game will randomly present players with special “Challenge” races that help spice things up. With these, players might have to race in the opposite direction, use a specific type of car, deal with land mines, and so on. Each one is a simple change to the core racing, but fun in its own right.

All in all, Remedy had done well with Death Rally. It does suffer from some repetition and a relatively arbitrary form of progression, but the core play is actually very fun and made even more so via the upgrade systems. In addition to this, Remedy has already stated that future, free updates will include more tracks and cars (to help with the low number of current tracks) as well as multiplayer. With a good start, these coming updates ought to offer significant boosts to the game’s player base in the future.