2000's Death Track Racing was fun but quickly forgotten, so it's unfortunate that the latest game sporting the moniker doesn't provide a strong argument for the franchise's resurrection from the dead. This $14.99 PlayStation Network release is much the same as last year's version for the PC, with the notable addition of online and split-screen multiplayer. Unfortunately, the past year has not been kind to Death Track: Resurrection. Bizarre physics, control oddities, and other faults make the game a frustrating proposition, even in light of its solid art design and diverse tracks. It's unfortunate that these positive elements go wasted in a driving game in which it isn't fun to drive.
One thing Death Track: Resurrection does well is nail its postapocalyptic vision. You race through the streets of a number of real-world cities, though you discover that in the future, Paris is, literally, burning. The famously foggy London is oppressively overcast, while looming statues and angular architecture make Prague look creepily Gothic. The well-designed courses feature lots of shortcuts and are presented with a nice sci-fi flair, and you glimpse familiar landmarks as you zoom and battle through them. When you're in top form and boosting along the straightaways, the game delivers a good sense of speed, which enhances the occasional burst of chaos. Settings like Tokyo and New York look appealing and provide glitzy backdrops for all the vehicular violence, and the pulsing but inoffensive soundtrack contributes to the futuristic ambience as well. Unfortunately, Resurrection's technical aspects aren't up to date: Vehicles don't exhibit a lot of detail, and the close draw distance and general pixelation make it difficult to discern important track features until you're upon them. It's incredibly frustrating to speed onto a branching path, only to smack into a glowing barrier that you couldn't see until it was too late.
There are several ways to tackle these tracks, most notably in Scenario mode, which presents an absurd but easily dismissed story about murdered tournament drivers. The dryly dubbed live-action newscast is an unintentionally campy hoot, however, so you may want to follow along for the occasional giggle. This mode is also the best way to introduce yourself to the car combat at Resurrection's center, though you quickly find that regardless of which mode you tackle first, car handling and physics are a huge problem. You can purchase and outfit various vehicles in Death Track: Resurrection, but all of them behave like toy cars, without any sense of weight or momentum. Sideswiping a girder or hitting the corner of a wall might bring your vehicle to an immediate halt, rather than careening away as you might expect. Should you hit a ramp a bit off-kilter (an easy mistake to make), you don't catch air the way you would in most racing games, but you may instead flip and drop to the pavement as if the planet's pull of gravity has dramatically increased. General controls are similarly troublesome. At random moments, steering becomes unresponsive; pushing the left stick all the way to one side or the other will result in the slightest turn or, perhaps, no turn at all. This frequent control quirk and the flimsy vehicle physics make the driving feel anemic and unenjoyable.
Your vehicle is equipped with primary, secondary, and rear weaponry, and you need to take down your competitors while chasing them around the track. Courses offer multiple routes, and a nice sensation of speed can make the game quite fun at times. The potential for madness is further enhanced by the ability to take aim at certain environmental structures and other objects, like blimps. Should you take a building down, a slow-motion cutaway may dramatize the event, or the destruction may be depicted in a window on the right side of your screen. Resurrection loves these bits of drama--a bit too much for comfort. Hitting a ramp generally causes time to slow and the camera to pan about with cinematic spectacle. It's cool at first, but when it interferes with your ability to adjust your landing or grab a power-up floating in the air, this bit of design hubris is more annoying than exciting. In fact, grabbing a power-up is often a pain because some of them jump around, sway to and fro, or morph into different power-ups. This isn't too problematic for speed and repair enhancements, but when you're low on ammo and desperately need that pickup, this kind of randomness can be frustrating.
Death Track: Resurrection's extreme level of difficulty exacerbates the frustrations. The PC version requires that you finish in first place in some modes and first or second place in others to reap financial rewards from the race. The PSN version's requirements aren't so stringent, but that doesn't make it easier to abide by other elements that might have you gritting your teeth in aggravation. The final scenario race is grueling, putting you against a single, cheating AI racer that seems to have an almost unlimited ability to boost and a heavily shielded vehicle that is improbably difficult to bring down. Each track also features hoverbots that can destroy you with their lasers. It's absolutely no fun to be leading the pack, only to be brought down by an environmental hazard you cannot escape. The hoverbot annoyance comes to a head in that same final scenario race, which ends in a loss the moment you are destroyed. Another irritation that might spoil the race for you is the abysmal vehicle respawn system. There's only the slightest safety period once a vehicle reappears, so you might crash into an enemy that spawns directly in front of you, or you might respawn directly behind a divider. And during several races, we went flying outside of the course geometry and fell indefinitely; manually respawning did nothing to save us from this race-ending dive.
The different vehicles, upgrades, and weapons you can purchase at least give Death Track: Resurrection a bit of variety. To unlock new stuff and pad your pocketbook (or just to mix things up), you can race in Tournament mode, enter a one-off race, or compete in drag races. More interesting is Challenge mode, in which you must complete a series of objectives, such as destroying a certain number of opponents in a particular lap or finishing a lap within a certain time period. Unlike last year's PC release, the PlayStation 3 version features online racing, which functions well enough, though we were never able to find more than one other person playing at any given time. You might get more value out of the two-player split-screen mode, though the poor physics and control quirks make multiplayer a case of "misery loves company" rather than a fun and competitive racing experience.
This version of Death Track: Resurrection would seem on the surface to be an improvement over last year's PC release, due to the inclusion of multiplayer modes and less rigid victory requirements. Instead, poor driving elements make the game feel even more decrepit. The interesting tracks and effective art style deserve recognition, but they are consistently let down by every other facet--the physics, the unreasonable challenge, and more. Death Track: Resurrection's postapocalyptic spark doesn't burn brightly enough to forgive these flaws, no matter how starved you are for a bit of vehicular combat.