(Disclosure: I don’t think that I’ve played enough yet to constitute a proper review. Hence; “Impressions.” I’ll give a rating of these impressions at the end of the article.)
Drawn to Death, a new online only co-oparative third person shooter/brawler, debuted this week for the Playstation 4, and is free to download for Playstation Plus subscribers. It is the brain-child of the man behind Twisted Metal and God of War. This might be an exciting selling point for some, but for me it lacks resonance. I have never played God of War, and Twisted Metal (the original I played some of on my little brother’s Playstation in the mid-late 90s) bored the hell out of me. So, I won’t be looking at this game from the perspective of how this new game fits into David Jaffe’s oeuvre.
Instead, I will be looking at the game from the perspective of someone who thought that Sunset Overdrive for the XBox One was amazing, and provided some of the most fun I’ve had playing a video game.
Drawn to Death, it seems to me, takes much of its inspiration from Sunset Overdrive. The music is similar — upbeat punky sorts of tracks. The ‘attitude’ is similar — a kind of pop-punky early-nineties flip everything the bird sensibility. Each game is a third person shooter with silly weapons — in Drawn to Death one can acquire a Super NES deck that shoots exploding cartridges, while in Sunset Overdrive one can acquire (and should acquire) a bazooka that fires exploding teddy bears. And there is a general retro, over-the-top vibe to both games — they are each embracing their ridiculous stylistic trappings as fully as they can.
Drawn to Death
The big difference, though, is that Sunset Overdrive succeeds marvelously. Drawn to Death largely does not. (Part of this is because Sunset Overdrive has a sense of humor about itself. Drawn to Death does not seem to get its own joke.)
I like the idea of Drawn to Death’s art style. You play in a world as imagined, and drawn by a bored high-school student in his notebook. So, it is full of heavily rendered ‘hero’ characters and (mostly in tutorial modes) heavily to sketchily rendered monsters. The platforms and walls and world one marches around looking for things to shoot are also hand drawn, and so also range from heavily rendered to sketchy and sparse. However, in practice it turns out to be less visually interesting than it sounds, and can be very hard on the old visual system. So, at times Drawn to Death just plain offers an unpleasant visual experience.
The unpleasantness of the game, however, does not stop with the excesses and deficiencies of the visual presentation. Playing through the tutorial mode was trying. The voice leading you through it, which in this world, emits from some misanthropic frog, who I suspect was a divorced used car salesman in a previous life, largely hurls insults at you. You are an idiot, or stupid, etc., and it just keeps going. The insults are not clever, or tongue-in-cheek, or anything resembling entertaining, or appealing, or possessed of any kind of artistic merit. They are just insults. Because insults are punk. Or edgy. Or something. (During online combat one gets shouted praise like ‘Awesome,’ etc., which once again basically makes me think of Sunset Overdrive because that game also has an ‘edgy’ announcer shouting similar things at you.)
Of course, this wouldn’t be so bad if the controls or mechanics were any fun. But they aren’t. Movement, aiming, shooting, brawling, jumping, etc., all feel sluggish and imprecise. Especially aiming. I really did not like aiming. I found it quite difficult to get a good feel for what movements of the analog stick would result in what movements of the crosshairs on screen. I did adjust the sensitivity of the inputs a few times in the options menu, and cranking the sensitivity all the way up did help some—it got me near where I wanted to go faster. But it never felt good, or precise, or under control. One is either not moving the crosshairs far enough, or one is moving them too far, virtually every time one is trying to aim. I also found the zoom aim/looking down the scope feature to be virtually useless. It was, essentially, a much slower version of the typical targeting controls that moved over a smaller field of view. Normally, this sort of zoomed in targeting feels more precise. Here it did not. Of course, I must grant that this may not be a universal experience (you, dear reader, might absolutely fall in love with this game’s controls), but my experience of the shooting was not one that was inherently appealing.
The experience of the ‘brawling’ component of this game is not much better. Though this game is also intended to function as a brawler to some degree, it seems that the brawling mechanics are largely an afterthought. And if not an afterthought, are really little more than projectile attacks with cool-down periods instead of ammo caps. Which, I guess, is kind of brawling… Oh, right. Pressing the right stick initiates a melee attack. So, there’s the brawling of some sort, I guess. (Look, it’s a shooter with a melee attack button, like lots, or most, shooters).
Beyond the combat, dashing, sprinting, and most everything but the default plodding forward, backward, and sideways movement and jumping felt quite useless. This sense of mechanical superfluity might be an artifact of my only having played through the tutorial and a couple of matches. But they initially did not feel fun or useful. So, yeah, whatever.
Sunset Overdrive, on the other hand, was fun. Like right at the start. Even though it took me forever to figure out some very basic things in the tutorial the first time I played it. Despite this, I kept playing it. And eventually figured out the very obvious thing the tutorial was trying to teach me. Because it was fun.
Drawn to Death is basically a basket of ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’ ideas that more-or-less hang together, but are not very fun or enjoyable. The creators, though, have done a very good job of giving you the kind of world you might expect from the mind of a bored, possibly unhappy, teenage boy, attending high-school in the 90s, who obsessively doodles in his binder–they’ve even replicated the boredom in high fidelity. But, honestly, that’s not really anywhere anyone wants to spend their time.
In even shorter summary:
Drawn to Death is the crappy version of Sunset Overdrive.
Simon’s Rating: (6 / 10)