Note: This review features the communal opinions of NextLevel staff members Kenneth Tabili, Jacob Farris, and Travis Northern.
Drawn to Death opens with a first-person scene of sitting in a high school science classroom. You endure the dull drone of the teacher for only a few moments before looking down at your sketchbook. You sink into the world of its pages, delving into the drawings of an imaginative, eccentric, and sophomoric teenage boy. This is where the game begins.
This title comes directly from the mind of David Jaffe–creator of God of War and Twisted Metal. His influence is more than apparent here, as Drawn to Death combines the hyper-violence of the first game with the epic rock-and-roll style of the second to create a retro over-the-shoulder shooter with a unique art style and tactical gameplay. Unfortunately, the latest entry in David Jaffe’s résumé is also his most flawed game yet.
The opening tutorial is an optional lesson on the premise of the game, and frankly, we wish we had skipped it. The gamemaster is a quippy frog in the midst of his own anatomic dissection. This formula could make for an interesting comedic companion, but he’s the biggest reason to put down Drawn to Death forever. In the first twenty minutes, the less-than-amicable amphibian brags about encounters with your mother, lies to you about the gameplay mechanics, and calls you an idiot more times than you can count. A few of his jokes are genuinely funny, but the game frequently mistakes “crass” for “hilarious.” It constantly throws abuse at you, and never offers a second of silence for you to breathe. The aggressive nature of this tutorial makes the game feel serious about wanting you to stop playing, and it’s a real shame, because there are features to like here.
One of the game’s great successes is its art style. The environments are completely made to resemble folded paper and scribbled sketches, and character models stand out from the fray with their distinct builds and dark color palettes. The visuals meld nicely with the universe of the drawings, where the gothic designs of grim reapers and lava pits feel superbly appropriate for hazardous maps bred from the mind of an angsty teen. The announcer is clearly the voice of a master manipulator with a god complex, and it’s an interesting commentary on the power (and the drawbacks) of raw imagination. Even the trophy titles read like an internal monologue when read from top to bottom. Everything in the world tells a story, and it’s a genuine joy to inhabit.
In contrast, the sound design is weak. The announcer’s voicework is uncomfortable at best, and grating at worst. Characters spout streams of dialogue you’d never repeat in front of your parents or your kids, ranging from rebellious curse words to sexual innuendos to comments of outright pedophilia. These lines are repeated over and over again, so you’ll have them haunting you after your first two hours of play. The music is dull; most of the soundtrack replays the same electric guitar power chords in short, generic loops. The inclusion of the headbanger metal tries to capture a sense of awesome, ferocious energy, but it’s so cheap and repetitive that it sounds like royalty-free placeholders for that CPR class’ PowerPoint presentation.
Gameplay is mostly solid, with a few glaring issues. While the misfit characters may have a vulgar vernacular, they’re designed well on a mechanical front, because each character possesses special abilities that help support different play styles. Players that enjoy quick traversal around the environment can select Ninjaw, an anime ninja girl with the head of a great white shark, for a power that sends her flying across the map. Players that want to utilize sneaky tricks can choose Cyborgula, a robot vampire that comes with a plethora of deadly revenge powers. Their interactions are fun match-ups, and the scales can tip in either direction based upon the skill of the players.
The handful of available maps are extremely dynamic and encourage great, strategic gameplay. These complicated worlds are full of teleporters, cover zones, vertical layers, spring bumpers, moving obstacles, hidden doors, and powerful pickups for weapons and items. The weapons in question are joyously destructive and often very funny, and it’s a blast to create your loadout and look for pickups in game to turn the tides of combat.
Drawn to Death’s biggest gameplay problem is the mechanic of its jumping. Character movements feel so floaty, as if everyone moves through molasses. The game just doesn’t respond fast enough when you’re careening through the air, and combat slows to a grind with players hopelessly flailing to find their aim. This mechanic is so soulless, it feels like it belongs in a PlayStation 1 title. And yet, the game encourages you to spend much of your time in the air, as those launch pads, vertical layers, and airborne abilities force you into the sky. It’s in this zone of play that the game can become grueling.
This title is also dragged down by its mechanical issues. The game crashed on us personally almost once per play session. Load times are way too long and come way too often for simple four-player matches and basic menus. There’s only one queue for all game modes, and they only last for one game, meaning that it’s impossible to reconnect with players you just met without finding them through the PlayStation’s home menu.
A major source of contention in the modern video game industry is the manner in which a game chooses to handle its unlockable content. In this title, weapons aren’t really an issue, as they arrive early and you choose which ones you wish to earn. However, there is a problem with some of the other content. There are plenty of aesthetics to unlock in Drawn to Death, including taunts and costumes. Most of them must come from loot crates, which often earn you random items that you never wanted. While many shooters are guilty of this, Drawn to Death’s crates take an absolute eternity to earn unless you pay microtransaction fees and fork over real money to possibly get something you could use. Not only is this a problem, but they brag about it, trying make a joke out of something so genuinely frustrating. And can anyone guess who presents the microtransactions so proudly? That stupid, stupid frog.
Drawn to Death has a fun, tactical shooter within its artistic pages, but the game is bogged down by its mean spirit and mechanical faults. The game definitely holds a little quality and could attract a cult fanbase, but there are many reasons for most demographics to avoid the game at all costs. It may be a cheap game–one that clocks in at $20 on the PlayStation store–but it often feels like it should be a cheaper one.