Dethkarz looks very similar to many other post-apocalyptic sci-fi racers like WipeoutXL: 2097, Motorhead or POD: Planet of Death. One can even compare it to MegaRace, an old racing game that was one of the very first to make use of CD-ROM technology. However visually comparable this game appears to these venerable titles of the genre, it is not.
There isn’t much of a plot behind DethKarz, really only that you are in a league in the future and you can chose between four different teams: Anassi, BlitzWagen, Hyperon and Astor. In each of these teams there are 3 different classes of cars; from lowest to highest: Platinum, Iridium and Titanium. When you start out the game, you can only drive the Platinum level cars. You obtain access to the higher level cars by completing 3 seasons on each of 4 different tracks. Actually, these ‘seasons’ are just different lengths of the track. Season 1 is the shortest race on each track with road blocks in place to limit your lap distance. Season 2 removes some of these roadblocks and makes you race a bit longer on each track, and season 3 removes all the roadblocks and you must race the longest distance on each track to succeed.
After completing each of season on the 12 different tracks while staying in the top 3 rank, you will move from Platinum to Iridium level. The Iridium cars are, obviously, faster and handle better then the Platinum level ones. You continue this way with the Iridium cars until you gain access to the Titanium level cars, which are the ultimate. The gameplay is very structured as a result of this racing ladder system. If you don’t want this level of gameplay, you can select Arcade mode instead of Championship, and race a single track with any team you want.
Your car can be customized, to a degree. You can have it either automatic or manual transmission, and chose your primary weapon. I thought they could have included more to chose from, because your two existing choices – pulse cannon and laser – are very similar. However, they make up for this with the powerups strewn around the track. These come in the form of little blocks that are laid on the track. They do different things such as give you a sudden burst of speed with an afterburner, give your car a limited supply of force fields which do different things, or give the car a single shot of a type of offensive weapon or missile.
You cannot pick up another powerup until you use the one you currently have, so this involves strategy and conservation. The enemy cars are very craft, in all levels of difficulty. Even when I tested the game in easy mode, they were trying to push me and bump me off the road. The enemy cars can also pick up the powerups, and you sometimes have to straight out drag race another car down a straightaway to get to the powerup you need before it does! The cars handle very interestingly. They run on four wheels, unlike Wipeout, so they had to include some skidding and over/understeer.
One of the best aspects of Dethkarz are the graphics, which were very good at its time. One has to keep in mind this is not a racing simulation, so the programmers have lots of freedom to make the game as visually impressive as they want. The game has superb support for the Voodoo and Voodoo2 chipsets, and is definitely optimized exclusively for them. The special effects of the game (sparks, explosions) look great and offer no lag once you pass the original system requirements.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win98
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