Death Road review
You may not have heard of Death Road – I certainly hadn’t before it landed on my lap for review. It’s an arcade racer in the vein of Wipeout, the space-ship style racer for the Playstation. You race futuristic hover-craft type vehicles around roads, construction sites and various other landmarks in the hope of crossing the finish line first. To aid you in this feat, there are power-ups scattered around tracks including speed-boosts and ammunition for a vehicle’s mounted weapon.
There’s nothing really new to be found here, but does this doom Death Road to an early grave? No. The game is quick, enjoyable fun but, unfortunately, it lacks staying power.
The game is split into Campaign mode – the sequence of single-player races and other events that need to be won in order to finish the game – and Quick Race mode – one-off events that have no real use other than to provide instant racing action. However, you begin the game with next to nothing – Quick Race mode is locked and cannot be played leaving only a single beginners campaign, multiplayer and the short, slightly unnecessary tutorial. Only one vehicle is available and no weapons are accessible to bolt on to it. This leaves you with a single track, a single vehicle and no weapons for that racer other than the pathetic default energy-blasters. The game appears boring.
Beat that first race by finishing in the top three and a plethora of stuff will unlock, making it available to use. This ‘stuff’ includes an initial weapon that can be mounted onto a vehicle, extra race courses, the next race in the Campaign and the ability to play Quick Race mode events. Beat that next race and more items will unlock including more race courses and the next Campaign race. This cycle continues until eventually you’ll unlock new types of vehicles to race and new mountable weapons. Since each weapon can be mounted on every unlocked vehicle you can experiment with different combinations. The game suddenly becomes a lot more interesting than its meagre beginnings implied.
This process of unlocking more and more content continues throughout the whole game meaning you are constantly rewarded for skilled play. The amount of extras you unlock does trail off towards the end of a Campaign race series. There are four Campaign race series, each one more difficult than the last so keep playing and it won’t be long before you are earning again. This is quality game design, pushing you through the Campaigns – you want to play on just to see what you unlock next.
The method of starting with nothing and “growing” the game by unlocking content after each success is clever but risky. If you can’t achieve success in the first place, you are not going to unlock additional content – effectively stopping this “growth” before it begins. You will very quickly get bored of playing the same single track over and over again, especially if you do not even know more content is unlocked after winning. This happened to me and could have made this review very brief indeed, not to mention disastrously decreased the game’s score.
The problem is that the futuristic vehicles you are racing move at lightning fast speeds making accurate control exceedingly difficult for novice players. That first race course is also extremely narrow in sections, often causing you to hit a circuit boundary, ricochet off one side and hit the opposite side, smashing back and forth between the edges of the circuit like a yo-yo. Hitting a crate at the wrong angle and flipping over and getting rammed by an enemy racer at the wrong place, spinning your vehicle to face the wrong direction are also potential race-ending hazards.
Luckily, I had the sense to change the game’s settings from Normal to Easy – decreasing the speed of all craft and making racing a more manageable affair. This does remove a lot of the sense of super-fast, high-octane racing the developers intended, but it was definitely worth it.
The interface layout does not make things any easier either. Everything you could possibly want to know – race position, vehicle damage level, lap time and lap number are displayed as if they are attached to your vehicles rear-end. This bizarre choice means you have to stop looking at the road ahead which is whizzing by at breakneck speed and look at the bottom of your vehicle to tell if you are winning or not – at which point you hit an inconveniently placed crate and are no longer winning anyway! There is also no mini-map – no way to see how far other racers are ahead or behind you. Consequently, there is no overview of the track so each turn is completely unexpected.
The final point I want to make is the lifespan of the game – how long it will continue to provide enjoyment. For a start there is bags of content. There are eleven vehicles to unlock and each can be given any one of the six types of mounted weapon when unlocked, producing a massive list of possible combinations. There are tons of race circuits to unlock and a plethora of game modes. These game modes are all variations on standard racing. For example, Combat races require you to destroy as many other racers as possible before a maximum amount of kills is reached. Time Trials are simple races around a course against the clock, all opponents removed. Elimination races see the last racer automatically burnt to a crisp at periodic intervals.
The disappointment is that all of the game modes feel a bit “samey” – they are all basically races around circuits just with different rules. Also, the massive list of vehicle combinations does not really provide the replayability it should. There are best vehicles and best weapons meaning that once you have an optimal setup, there is no need to experiment with the others.
Unfortunately I only see this game lasting a skilled player about a weekend – maybe a week maximum. Spreading the game out into shorter play sessions will make it last longer but any player who tries this strategy is likely to become bored after a week or two.
Death Road is a fun little game. It caters more for the casual player than the dedicated hardcore – people who just want some entertainment for a few minutes at irregular times. Racing around circuits, collecting power-ups including shields and ammunition for mounted weapons and then using these effectively to finish a race in pole position while dodging fire from rival racers is beautiful fun. However, a dedicated hardcore gamer who plays a game for hours on end may find the game dismal after a while. There is no real “point” in completing races – no sense of purpose. You unlock more content to play but there is no story or plot to drive the game forward. In addition, the extra content that is unlocked when winning races ultimately merges into bland repetition where everything, although slightly different, feels just the same.