Death Road – Review

Title   Death Road
Developer  Active Zone Group
Publisher  Lace Mamba Global
Platform  Driving/Racing
Genre  Xbox 360, Windows PC (reviewed), PlayStation 3
Release Date  March 2012

Every now and then, a game comes along that makes you think “ooh, that looks pretty” and you think about buying it based on looks alone. Death Road is one of those games. Set on the planet Ameliana, Death Road is a fast-paced futuristic racing game where many compete for the ultimate prize, but actually achieving this is another thing entirely as your fellow competitors will pull out all the stops, and weapons, to ensure that you’re left dragging behind at all costs.

Graphically, it really is a head turner, and the gritty futuristic setting really does draw you in and make you feel like you’re entering an arena where life, death, awesome machinery, and potential glory are there for the taking if only you can master said machinery and avoid the destruction that will no doubt be rained down upon you by the other competitors hunting those elusive trophies. There will inevitably be some comparisons to WipEout due to the nature of the vehicles you are racing and the fast-paced action but, as I never really played that game myself much, I can’t really hand on heart say whether those comparisons hold up.

As with any racing game, you begin your career mode as a rookie with one vehicle option and only a basic weapon choice with which to take down your opponents. The controls are keyboard-based and I initially struggled with this as all of the movement keys were on my right hand so, as a long time CounterStrike Source player, that felt alien to me. A quick look through the options menu, though, and I was quickly able to remap the key configuration so my left hand did all the fiddly moving stuff and my right could concentrate on weapons and power ups. That made the game much more enjoyable for me and allowed me to make much better progress in each race, hitting gold and silver medals and opening up new tracks and race types along the way. Thankfully, the option to re-map the keyboard is included, allowing the player to tailor the controls to suit their own particular preferences. While this may not be necessary for many, making slight adjustments to key placements certainly made for a more fluid and natural experience.

Completing each race awards you points, which accumulate and open up more tracks and vehicle options, allowing for more powerful weapons with which to attack the opposition with a view to taking them out of the race permanently, and therein lies one little problem for me. The weapons feel underpowered at times (even those you obtain going through the Veteran levels) and, given the nature of the vehicles and their inherent instability and relatively poor handling, aiming those weapons and achieving a palpable hit is something of a lottery and can get very frustrating. This becomes more of an issue when you have to remain steady in order to aim, leaving you open to being peppered with enemy bullets, plasma, laser bolts and energy balls.

There is a balance to this, though, as it would appear that the opposition also have similar issues at times, albeit much fewer as you get to grips with things. Weapons, ammo, speed boosts, armour repair, shields, and (once you hit Veteran level) mines all appear as power ups dotted about the race tracks. The trick is to manoeuvre your craft well enough to get to them before the other competitors, and avoid the debris dotted around – barrel-type objects and crates left around by careless racetrack employees, no doubt.

Not every race is a life or death struggle, though. Some are straight-out time trials where you have to complete a full lap of winding, tricky courses before your timer runs out. These are littered with power ups that increase the time you have, or indeed reduce it, and it took me a good five or six attempts at the first of these before I twigged that the icon I kept hitting was reducing my race time and therefore disqualifying me sooner than had I avoided them. Another of the race modes is Elimination, where the aim is to avoid being at the back of the pack when the timer runs out, thus retiring whoever is unfortunate enough to be trailing behind at that point. Later in the game, there is a Hunting mode where you are tasked with killing an opponent. You have to take care with this one, however, because if you overtake them, they are able to stop and reverse direction in order to evade you.

With bigger, better, and stronger vehicles opening up as you go through the game, you have the option to revisit any of the previous races in order to gain better results and further your points standing. With four career levels to plough through and over fifty races to enjoy, there is enough there to keep you occupied a good while. If you don’t fancy furthering your professional life, however, you can opt for a Quick Race, which lets you choose from any of the six race modes and vehicles you’ve unlocked up to that point.

There is also an online multiplayer option which, again, limits your choices based upon the race types and vehicle/weapon choices you have unlocked, but so far I’ve been unable to find any available games to join, and using the ‘create server’ option didn’t illicit any interest from the internet either, so that may hold back online play.

All in all, Death Road is good, but it’s not great. The gameplay is somewhat limited and while the graphics are really quite beautiful at times it’s not quite enough to keep me coming back to the future. The quirkiness of the controls and the underpowered hard-to-aim weapons coupled with the often-poor manoeuvrability of the vehicles on even simple trick tracks makes for an occasionally-frustrating experience. At the same time, however, it does drive you to do better in order to get a podium place and reach the next race, in the hope that the next vehicle you unlock is going to make racing easier and more enjoyable.

  • Beautifully crafted visuals
  • Easy to configure the controls
  • Even the easiest levels can be tough
  • Frustratingly underpowered weapons
  • Aiming is near impossible at times
  • Not enough replayability overall
  • Vehicles can sometimes be too cumbersome for the winding tracks

Death Road showed a great deal of promise when we first saw it at E3, with some pretty intense action and stunning visuals, but the final release fell a little short of the mark. Gameplay isn't exactly varied and, while this is commonplace for this particular genre, there are usually more facets dropped in to keep changing the pace as the game progresses, but Death Road lacks these. That's not to say that it's not an enjoyable experience; just not as good as it could have been.

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