Have you seen that film Death Race? The one where Jason Statham is plucked out of jail to compete in a futuristic motor-sport where combatants drive cars armed to the teeth for the enjoyment of a television audience. The majority of competitors would die gruesome deaths - burning in the carcasses of their devastated vehicles - but one lucky winner would earn his freedom. While this is the same premise behind Death Rally, the pair share more than just plot similarities. Both are re-imaginings. While Death Race was based on 1975's Death Race 2000, Remedy's first iOS offering is a remake of an old PC title of the same name.
It was originally released back in 1996 - a top down racer where crossing the finish line first was only half the battle; you first had to survive long enough to get there. Think Twisted Metal meets Micro Machines and you're along the right lines. The remake is largely the same experience, spruced up with shiny HD visuals and new social features. Two virtual analogue sticks reside in either corner of the screen, one for steering, one for shooting. There's no more to it than that, but the controls remain tight, with the camera snapping to your vehicle as you throw it around corners.
Combining racing and combat with an RPG approach to progression gives the game an addictive edge. Depending on how well you fare on the track, you'll be rewarded with experience points. With this you can upgrade the speed, handling and armour of your ride, as well as the weapons welded to its chassis. It's subsequently very cyclic in nature: you race, you upgrade, you race again.
You'll start out in the Vagabond - a modest buggy with base stats. After a few races - collecting vehicle parts strewn across the track - you'll quickly unlock more. The Sentinel, for example, is the biggest of the bunch, slow but boasting impressive armour. The Wraith on the other hand seems to be built out of Papier-mâché, but to compensate, it's quick. The final vehicle to unlock is known as the Deliverator; a mechanical beast enjoying full stats across the board. Jump in this badboy with a level 10 Gatling gun, and your opponents won't stand a chance.
Like its 1996 predecessor, Death Rally features Duke Nukem as a boss character. In addition to the King, the iOS version welcomes Alan Wake's buddy Barry Wheeler and John Gore of Minigore fame. Boss characters are slightly tougher than your run-of-the-mill opponents; their engines bigger and their armour thicker. Beating them yields more experience at the end of a race, although they'll make you fight for it. You'll rarely make it to the finish line before them, so it's usually better to conserve your ammo until you've reached second place, then unload the lot in the bugger's tailpipe.
There's no denying it's a good looking game, with nice cars, detailed tracks and an impressive 60fps frame rate to tie it all together when running on an iPad 2. The only thing really letting it down is the bewildering omission of multiplayer, which a game of this nature relies on to give it legs. Sure, it's great fun for a few hours, but without real players to compete against, it quickly runs out of gas. Should Remedy address this in an upcoming update, Death Rally becomes a lot easier to recommend.