Dead End City Review

Mad Max meets a rolling, retro shoot-em-up in Dead End City, a 90s style shooter set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Players can take the role of five drivers in possession of special vehicles called Chariots, remixed versions of cars with insane weaponry, in the battle against the Scorpio gang, who has claimed what’s left of the world for themselves. Anybody who grew up during the ’80s and ’90s might feel right at home with Dead End City with its gorgeous pixel-art graphics and explosive gameplay. Despite its pretty barebones story of simply rescuing loved ones from a malicious gang syndicate, Dead End City‘s gameplay makes up for it in more ways than one.

Choose your character…

 

Pedal to the Metal

Players sit behind the wheels of Chariots, fully loaded death machines on wheels, also known as cars with guns. Players can enter three different game modes, those being Arcade, Highway, or Score Attack. All game modes play extremely similarly to each other; however, the Arcade mode is the only game mode that ties to the story and will help players unlock new drivers and levels. Highway mode tasks players with taking on a heavily persistent horde of enemies, hoping to rack up the highest scores, and seems to be commonly used for real-life competitions. Score Attack is essentially Dead End City’s level select mode and allows players to replay levels without having to grind through Arcade mode. Unlocking new Chariots can be done in two ways: by advancing through the Arcade mode or spending earned points in the Extras menu. Browsing the Extras menu will provide some options that might feel like cheating, but Dead End City‘s huge difficulty spikes make the former feel more than reasonable. For instance, the starting Chariot, Ripper, is arguably the worst vehicle to begin with, and after accumulating a certain number of points, players can purchase new Chariots with their hard-earned points. Players who enjoy a long life of pain might want to earn new drivers legitimately, but Dead End City presents some unforgiving hitboxes, and being tasked with beating each boss without taking any damage can be frustrating and incredibly daunting.

The highway to Hell…

 

Eyes on the Road, Please

Once players dive into the gameplay, the bullet hell commences, and the Chariots must dodge and weave through several waves of enemies, all of whom attack the player with high rates of fire that can be quite difficult to evade. There is plenty of enemy variety with different patterns of movement for each, including bikers who like to run donuts around the player, heavier-built vehicles like trucks that stay in the background, and drones that zip around the level like cheetahs on amphetamines. As enemies perish into a blazing inferno, sometimes they will drop fuel that acts as the player’s health. Other pickups include gold medals that further increase the player’s score if they can hit the highest multiplier without taking damage, and ammo cases, giving players a chance to add ammo to their secondary fire mechanic, all of which change depending on the player’s chosen Chariot. For instance, the Ripper Chariot explains its secondary fire quite well as, once activated, a gatling gun tears through enemies in rapid fashion. Another Chariot, the Wraith, utilizes a mortar that throws bombs, causing massive damage to enemy vehicles within splash range. As such, each Chariot can be accustomed to most playstyles, but must be unlocked through no-damage boss runs, which can be extremely frustrating since there are no checkpoints, and if any point of damage is taken, players must either restart the entire playthrough or press on until the end.

Scratched the paint…

 

We’re Gonna’ Need a Bigger Car

Speaking of boss battles, these hulking monstrosities represent the lieutenants of the Scorpio gang. Players will encounter these dangerous foes in the third part of each stage, aiming to use their ultimate firepower to put an end to our rescue attempt. The mechanics for each boss fight are quite different from a standard enemy as their massive vehicles are made from individual parts that can be destroyed to make the fight ever so slightly easier. Boss vehicles also use different weaponry to surprise the player, such as flamethrowers and heavy-hitting power shots that fire at the speed of light. Smaller enemy mobs can also intrude in the fight, but they can also be used by the player as cannon fodder for fuel and ammunition. There is some fun to be had in the boss battles, but the heavy focus on no-damage runs to unlock new characters reduces the enjoyment slightly.

Fingers crossed for invincibility…

 

It’s Called Road Rage

One concern surrounding Dead End City is its physical hitboxes. Of course, a video game involving vehicular slaughter should take into account that cars can hit one another but sometimes, it feels like damage is taken too far from contact. For instance, the bikers doing donuts in the second level get extremely close to the bottom of the screen and the player, closing distance for contact damage. Just as if an invisible forcefield surrounds our enemies, the very air itself around each vehicle seems lethal enough to cause damage, showing how large the hitboxes can be. Worse yet, any movement other than forward seems much slower, so trying to reverse away from an incoming hostile is like attempting to heave a truck out from a mud puddle. However, fuel is made abundantly available, so players can always make up for the loss of health, granted they improve their reaction times accordingly to match enemy speeds.

 

Final Thoughts

To conclude, Dead End City is a nostalgia-driven, well-made shoot-em-up that gamers who grew up in the 80s and 90s will truly appreciate. Its lack of a truly gripping story is not a major loss due to its successful focus on solid gameplay mechanics. Modern gamers can use Dead End City as an accessible example of what video games were like back in the golden days, hopefully appreciating how far gaming has come since then.

Developer: Pixel Licker LLC

Publisher: Eastasiasoft

Platforms : Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Switch, Windows PC

Release Date: 28th February 2024

 

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