"I'm using my Karz to cause Deth. Screw my English teacher!"
It seems that lately there seem to be two trends emerging in the world of PC gaming. One: a distinct lack of sci-fi racing games ever since POD came out two years ago. Two: a massive abuse of language. Personally, I revel in the misspelled names and pimply slang that seem to permeate the current titles, but I have been sorry to see so few sci-fi racing games come out in recent months.
Well, here to ease the pain of Wipeout XL and ExtremeG 2 fans is DethKarz, a nifty little sci-fi combat racing game. Along with solid design and racing action, it is second only to Unreal for being the best looking PC game of all time (a bit of hyperbole, perhaps? - Ed.).
The basic premise of this mostly plot-less game is that you are a superstar racer in the racing league of the future. You pilot a car for one of 4 "teams" and race around 4 different areas (Metro City, Grand Keys, The Pole, and Red Planet), each with 3 tracks (Short, Medium, and Long). As you progress through the races, you can gain access to higher car classes which let you drive more impressive versions of you basic 4 Karz, for a total of 12. Strapped onto these Karz are either a Plasma or Laser cannon and the ability to use some very tasty weapons, shields, and afterburners that you find on the track.
The most impressive feature of DethKarz, and the element that will no doubt gain it the most notoriety, is its extremely good looks. In this game of English misnomers, the textures are extremely well detailed, the colored lighting is brilliantly applied, and the 3D models contain a ridiculous number of polygons. But the true graphical power, however, is in the special effects. The shield power-ups cause cascading electrical beams to envelope your ship sizzling up and down (a little like the effect of the alien weapon from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, only much, much cooler). The weapons and explosions are flashy enough to make you want to kneel down and pray; white hot laser beams and energy torpedoes leave flaming multi-colored streaks across the tracks. There are even some animated 24fps movie textures playing as video advertisements on billboards on the city tracks!
Oh, and if you leave the visible range at full, you can actually see for miles in the distance. The visible range is incredibly refreshing, as most racing games limit the range either by track design (tight corners, short straight-aways), by fog, or by ugly pop-up.
Of course, the problem is that you'll need a high-end computer and graphics accelerator card to achieve the most amazing visual experience. Fortunately, DethKarz gives you a truckload of graphics options to use that allow you to get it running smooth and lacquered on slightly less burly systems.
But enough about the graphics, the gameplay must get its due verbiage! Fortunately, the designers of DethKarz didn't slouch in this department after doing such meritorious work with the graphics. DethKarz is definitely a fun ride. Well-designed tracks, neat weapons, and a very good sense of speed make this an enjoyable romp through the future.
There are 3 gameplay modes: Championship, Arcade, and Time Trial. In Championship, you must complete each of the several corporate-sponsored championships to gain access to the longer tracks and higher car classes. In Arcade, you can race any accessed cars on any accessed tracks. In Time Trial, you have no opponents, but must race a "ghost" of your best lap time to try to achieve an optimum time. In a nod off to Pod, you can download a ghost off the Internet, or even upload one of your own. On the DethKarz website, there is a ranking of the fastest ghost for each track so you can try to see if you can beat everyone else and rule the world (well, maybe not the world).
Racing alone is all fine and dandy, but boy, is it ever satisfying to turn a corner with a charged laser and release the trigger just as the car in front of you comes into view. There's nothing like sending it tumbling into a loud, blue, explosive death - the shockwave of which will shake your view.
The control is good. Controlling with the keyboard is adequately sharp, although the joystick control is implemented well enough to be a viable alternative for those who prefer that good 'ol analog feel. Overall, the control is about what you would expect of a decent console arcade racer. That's not particularly surprising given that DethKarz feels a lot like an N64 title. But don't try to use a racing wheel because it is almost impossible to turn the wheel all the way over while holding down a button to charge up you laser.
As far as sound goes, DethKarz hold its own. The lasers, plasma cannons, and missiles all sound appropriate. The music, on the other hand, is only barely acceptable. In fact, I didn't even really notice its presence. Now I know that some people like new age music, but I personally try to shy away from anything called "Air Pudding." (mmmm, pudding - Ed.).
My only real complaint with this game is that there aren't enough tracks. As fun as DethKarz is, it simply does not have the sort of depth that makes games like Need For Speed 3 infinitely playable. In some ways, this makes DethKarz rather similar to UltimateRace Pro, a very fine racing game that was seriously flawed in having only 4 tracks.
Overall, this is a very nice, but unfortunately brief, game. If you have a high end system, I'd say definitely go for DethKarz, but everyone else should think about it a little longer. A bit of advice for those who do buy this little puppy: revel in the speed, and RESIST THE ENGLISH TEACHERS!