There’s a simple recipe that has been handed down for generations to add some spice to a racing game: when all else fails, take an assortment of outlandish cars, place them in a bleak, post-apocalyptic world, and equip them with mounted machine guns. In some cases, this resulted in a dish of exquisite car combat, with early examples of Twisted Metal, Interstate 76, and Vigilante 8 leading the genre. Times have changed however, and the ingredients have since become rather stale to the point where you might as well be eating rust – you only need to sample the gristly Full Auto series to realise this.
Unbeknown to most racing fans, the original Deathtrack was an obscure vehicular combat game originally released for the PC in 1989, which later spawned a remake entitled Death Track: Resurrection last year, also for the PC. For whatever reason, Gaijin Entertainment, the people responsible for IL2: Birds of Prey and the recently released Anarchy: Rush Hour, felt that the time was right to port Death Track: Resurrection over to the PS3 in the form of a budget PSN download, in the hope that it will attract a whole new audience. Quite frankly, they needn’t have bothered.
Things don’t start off well, as you are greeted with a decidedly ugly menu screen, which is a sure sign of things to come. The game’s central crux is the Scenario mode, a staged race series featuring weaponised cars that spans across 10 real world, post apocalyptic locations, including London, Tokyo, and San Diego. This premise will only seem vaguely exciting or original if you’ve never picked up a combat racer in the past 15 years.
As you may have gathered, Death Track isn’t bursting with originality, although to be fair, some of the tracks are fairly well designed with alternative routes, and there is a novelty factor of seeing the various world locations reduced to ruins. Stunt ramps are also dotted around each track, allowing you to pointlessly flip your car in mid-air on demand.
The narrative on offer here would barely pass as B-movie material. Between each Scenario race, you are treated to some laughable and bizarre cutscenes, rendered in glorious low resolution. A flamboyantly dressed Russian drone acting as a news announcer narrates the scene, but the woeful dubbing is instantly noticeable: I can only presume that it was originally in Russian, since the English voiceover does not match the lip syncing at all. CG cutscenes also attempt to portray a thin morsel of plot involving the drivers falling victim to some staged “accidents” orchestrated by a mob boss. It’s hard to tell if the intentions were serious, but you will be continuously laughing out loud nonetheless.
Death Track’s handling model can only be described as trying to manoeuvre a high speed shopping trolley across an ice rink. Yes, it’s trying to be arcadey, but it’s so terribly twitchy and loose that vehicles have a tendency to slide uncontrollably whenever you try to steer with even the lightest of touches. It’s as if they tried to program a basic drifting mechanic, only for it to fail spectacularly. Then again, you know the handling can’t be very good when the game’s official trailer frequently features cars scraping against walls at nearly all times. It’s just embarrassing.
Collisions are equally primitive, as your car will often stop dead unconvincingly on impact. Now, I appreciate that this is a budget download and a port for a game that nobody played on PC over a year ago, so I wasn’t exactly expecting sophistication on par with a big budget game like, say, Burnout Paradise, but there’s no excuse for the catastrophic physics on display here. Did I also happen to mention that the game’s roster of blandly designed cars sound like dying Dyson vacuum cleaners?
The combat system, i.e. the focal point of the game, fares no better, sadly. While selecting weapons is made easy by assigning each weapon to a different face button, what should have been the game’s defining feature ultimately suffers from a poor auto-targeting system, which, coupled with having to battle with the game’s dodgy car handling, makes for some very disjointed racing. The reward for successfully destroying an opponent is underwhelming, too, thanks to the aforementioned physics and visual setbacks.
Additional weapons and upgrades can be purchased and can also be used to damage buildings if the targeting system is feeling generous, but this has no adverse effect on the race itself. While races can be chaotic, it is near impossible to avoid attacks from your rivals, and it is often difficult to finish in a podium position due to the ruthless AI, which will be frustrating to some but challenging for others. Despite this, Death Track’s flaws completely strip any possible intensity from the racing. In fact, I often became bored since the races last for a needlessly long time, even at the early stages.
Then there’s the graphics, which, even for a budget PSN game, range from eye-poppingly bland to downright dire: tracks are plagued with fogging issues, and are smothered with uninspiring textures. If this was a first generation PS2 product released many moons ago in the land before time, then it might have been forgivable, but the lack of visual splendour is all too apparent.
The remainder of Death Track: Resurrection is padded with standard quick race and championship modes, which play out exactly the same as Scenario, but without the cringe-worthy cutscenes, which is at least a blessing. Additional challenges (such as point challenges and time attacks) complete the line-up, but you would be hard-pressed to have the willingness to trawl through them all.
Unlike the PC version, Death Track does at least include split-screen and online multiplayer modes, but good luck trying to find an online opponent as the servers are predictably barren. Only on one occasion could I find a single rival racer, and while the performance was generally solid, it was hard to differentiate between the online player and AI bots. There is only one standard online race mode too, with just a handful of options to tweak.
At £11.99, Death Track isn’t exactly cheap, either – it wouldn’t at all surprise me if it ends up on the scrap pile of the weekly PSN special offers list in the coming weeks. If you’re after a cheap-thrills PSN racer, there are plenty of viable alternatives to choose from: GTi Club+, and Outrun: Online Arcade, for example.
Death Track: Resurrection ultimately suffers the same fate as Anarchy: Rush Hour, meaning that, in the space of a few weeks, Gajjin Entertainment has cooked up two consecutive arcade atrocities that put the high standard of the PSN to shame. Please Gaijin, just stick to flying games from now on.
The unpolished graphics simply look incredibly substandard for a current generation game, even for a PSN title.
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Car combat is marred by an indecisive auto-targeting system, and the races go on for much longer than the average player can endure.
The engine sounds are awful, as is the grating soundtrack. Don't even get me started on the Unreal Tournament-esque racing announcer - see how long you can tolerate hearing "MAXIMUM VELOCITY" shouted at you during every race.
There is a fair amount of material for the completionist, but you will otherwise quickly tire of Death Track's repetition and lack of originality.
Death Track: Resurrection is an outdated, dismal driving experience that does nothing but embarrass the combat racing genre.