Monday, April 20, 2009

Death Track: Resurrection Review

Death Track: Resurrection, developed by SkyFallen Entertainment and published by 1C Company and Aspyr Media on GameAgent.
The Good: Action packed racing, multiple game options and rules, almost intelligent auto-targeting, capable AI drivers, nice graphics
The Not So Good: No multiplayer, limited strategic options with abbreviated arsenal, defensive weapons stink, normal races are about a minute too long
What say you? This shoot-em-up racing game delivers mostly solid arcade action at a budget price: 6/8

In the future, criminals will drive weapon-enhanced vehicles to fight for freedom. And by “criminals” I mean Jason Statham (he's in everything). Despite the seemingly obvious rip-off factor, Death Track: Resurrection is actually a remake of a game from 1989, if Wikipedia is to be believed (and when has it ever lead us wrong?). I like cars, and I like shooting things (just ask my lawyer), so combining the two must be pure brilliance. Another thing Death Track: Resurrection has going for it is its Eastern European heritage, as 1C has a notoriety for delivering some very solid games. Enough of my link-heavy introduction: let's get on with the killing!

Don't let the price tag fool you: Death Track: Resurrection delivers some very nice visuals. The game compares favorably with any visuals-heavy racing game: very detailed cities with plenty of track-side objects, pleasing weapons, momentous explosions, and . I would like the car damage to be more fragmented: cars explode into a charred fraction of their former selves, but even more flying parts could be possible. Weather can also be a factor, and snow and rain are pleasing effects. Performance is acceptable, although I did experience some slow-downs starting with the snow-induced Moscow map; I disabled a lot of the more advanced options and experienced smooth but still striking visuals afterwards. The sound design, like a lot of foreign games, lags behind the visuals in terms of quality. The cars and weapons are fine enough if a bit repetitive. You can tell this is a Russian-first game, as the audio for the movies are not synced, but since I skip all of the cut-scenes anyway, I don't find this to be a bother. The voice acting (consisting of quips from other drivers) becomes quite annoying very quickly, especially the stereotypical Asian guy (yes, I know I ran into a wall...leave me alone!). The music selection I find to be very appropriate for the game: heavy metal to keep you PUMPED for the intense driving. While the audio isn't the best, the graphics of Death Track: Resurrection do not disappoint.

Death Track: Resurrection features death on tracks (with a dash of resurrection). Your primary mission, like all racing games, is to finish first, although Death Track: Resurrection features guns to help you overcome your opposition. Most of the game is unlocked in the scenario mode that follows a Death Track season as it travels to ten cities around the world. There are cut-scenes between each race that explain the off-track story (and why there is one less car each race), but they are easily skipped with a simple press of the “escape” key. Each of the cities have one defining factor (Moscow has snow, Tokyo has neon lights, San Diego is apparently a jungle) that makes their specific setting stand out, although none of the tracks are especially memorable. There are other game modes beyond the ten-race season. Tournaments take place on each of the game’s three continents, featuring each city on said continent; this mode isn’t terribly different from the scenario mode. The challenge mode adds in varied, interesting objectives that must be completed in addition to finishing strong. There is a large variety of things to accomplish that makes this aspect of Death Track: Resurrection intriguing, from blowing up a specific number of cars on one lap to collecting bonuses and using power-ups. The additional objectives make the racing much more interesting than simply passing everyone. Lastly, you can participate in drag races, short events that take place on a mostly linear track (although u-turns are common) with high speeds and weapons enabled. The drag races are another nice distraction that, while not as appealing as the challenge mode, do offer something different. You can also customize the rules of each race: modern, classic (no respawns and no bonuses), rally (no weapons), or a custom setting. Races have a different approach when certain aspects of the game are disabled, so offering these options is certainly a nice feature. For a game that would be perfect for a multiplayer competitive setting, it is quite surprising that Death Track: Resurrection lacks any sort of multiplayer, either online or on the same computer. Despite the disappointing lack of multiplayer, the numerous game modes and options make Death Track: Resurrection a feature-filled racing game, especially for a budget price tag.

The controls of Death Track: Resurrection are a bit more sophisticated than your typical racing game because of the addition of weapons. Putting every single control on a gamepad is an impossible task, and since I like to use my analogue gamepad for steering (who uses the keyboard?), you’ll have to rely on some automation by the computer. This will probably come in the form of targeting, and generally the game does a good job choosing appropriate victims for you. It does have the tendency to focus on buildings over cars (even if you have the setting to prefer cars on), but having the game worry about who to target lets you focus on driving and shooting. The on-screen HUD does a decent job delivering useful information to you, such as health and ammunition levels. The driving in Death Track: Resurrection is certainly on the “arcade” side of things, and I have absolutely no problem with that: the fast speeds and high grip goes well with the overall pace and intense nature of the racing.

The weapons aren’t as varied or as effective as I would have liked. You get a primary weapon (machine gun, laser, or plasma gun), a secondary weapon (rockets or a terminator that disables control for a short period of time), and one in the rear (mines and spikes). There is really no difference between all of the primary weapons and there is certainly no strategy involved in choosing which weapons to fire: just hold down the button and let ‘er rip. Defensive weapons are also ineffective, putting the car in front at a great disadvantage, since you can’t aim either of your weapons backwards, it’s better to let a car pass you so that you can blow them up. This becomes more of an issue in the “classic” mode where respawning is disabled, resulting in some very conservative racing where you don’t want to be directly ahead of someone. This is no Unreal Tournament in terms of depth and range of your arsenal. For a game that emphasizes vehicular combat, the weapon selection and strategy is below par.

Strategy is involved when you talk about the on-track pick-ups and bonuses. These icons usually move around the track, requiring some skill to collect them. You can gain temporary boosts in armor, speed, ammunition, damage, or points, and this can mean the difference between life and death. Speaking of points, you can earn cash for blowing up other cars or performing tasks like high speeds or not hitting anything. Money is then used between races to upgrade your car (or purchase a new one, although they are quite expensive); upgrades range from engine and armor improvements to more effective weapons. Money is earned in any of the game’s modes, so you can switch to another type if the difficulty is insurmountable. Once you get enough upgrades, it’s pretty easy to win on medium difficulty and plow through the competition. The AI drivers put up a good fight, though, although they seem to have slightly less health and worse weapons than the human player. The game can be difficult because the AI cars tend to race in packs, so you can quickly go from 1st to 5th in a matter of seconds. Still, I feel that Death Track: Resurrection strikes a good balance in terms of difficulty.

Death Track: Resurrection accomplishes what it set out to do: provide fast-paced, intense racing...with guns. The game is mindless fun, but fun nonetheless. The varied game modes and rules options are nice but all center on racing; however, the objectives-based challenge mode introduces some advanced goals beyond simply killing the competition. The graphics are also quite nice to look at, comparing favorably with any other recent racing game. The controls are more complicated than your typical racing game or your typical first person shooter, as it must combine the elements of both. Mapping all of the appropriate keys to a gamepad will always leave something unbound, but driving with the keyboard just feels wrong. None of the tracks are terribly difficult to drive, offering up only the occasional instance of actually having to use the brakes or pay attention to where you are going. I think that's the goal, actually: the cities are meant to be more of a playground than a test of skill. More precise driving is awarded with pickups, so there is at least some incentive to varying your racing line. The challenge comes from dealing with all of the AI drivers shooting things at you constantly. The offensive weaponry is pleasing, although it's limited in scope: is there really a difference between a machine gun and a laser? Defensively is where Death Track: Resurrection disappoints: both mines and spikes are woefully inadequate, and violently dealing with pesky drivers behind you is essentially an impossibility. Death Track: Resurrection also lacks multiplayer, but the shortcomings are not noticed as you race around San Diego blowing up skyscrapers. The game might have limited replay value due to the lack of online competition, but there are enough game modes to keep arcade racers busy for a while, at least long enough to justify the budget-level price tag. Death Track: Resurrection is a fine update to the series that delivers exactly what you would expect.