Drawn to Death Review
An ambitious visual style can't make up for the plethora of issues in this arena shooter
After a five year absence, the creator of Twisted Metal and God of War is back, with the help of The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency, to deliver something entirely original. David Jaffe's newest project, his first since PS3's Twisted Metal, is Drawn to Death, an arena shooter that looks to hook players in with its over the top premise and strikingly unique visuals. Interestingly enough, the game was originally planned to be a free-to-play endeavor, though after some considerations it has been redesigned into a typical paid release. While the game offers plenty of attitude that Jaffe fans will enjoy, and a unique art style, Drawn to Death stumbles with its gameplay and suffers from technical issues.
The most immediately notable feature of this third person shooter is its art style. The entire game looks like it comes alive on the pages of a high school student’s notebook, that one guy that spends the entire class drawing all sorts of strange and “cool” things instead of paying attention. From the white paper background canvas to the outlandish character designs and overall style, the art design is executed quite masterfully. It truly does bring those drawings to life. It looks the most convincing in menus, but once you jump into a match it still retains the same art, though it uses a cel-shaded visualization. Having said that, the menus do take a bit of getting used to, as there are so many drawings on screen it can be disorienting to see what you have selected.
Along with this visual style comes an overbearing dose of rebellious teenage attitude. The game certainly earns its Mature rating, though not because of the overly gory blood splatter and body parts, but rather because it is littered with curse words and innuendos that hardcore fans of creator David Jaffe will appreciate. The rest, however, may soon become annoyed by the endless stream of juvenile humor that the game unflinchingly produces. There is a match announcer that frequently goes on rambling tangents and eggs players on. Though entertaining at first, the writing quickly runs out of gusto, and simply throwing profanities around becomes repetitive. During matches, you’ll begin to hear the same sorts of insults and character voice clips over and over. Players can also choose from a variety of meme gif taunts that will play in lobby, or for players you eliminate. If you’re into this sort of art style and humor, Drawn to Death is probably the best and only example of it coming to life in video game form, though the longevity of its appeal will vary.
Drawn to Death is an arena style shooter, meaning you’ll be dishing it out against others on maps that are littered with pickups and occasional moving bits. There are seven maps, each with vastly different layouts and effective use of elevation. There are plenty of buildings, pathways, and even secrets, as well as occasional moving parts, teleports and jump pads. Each match begins with players dropping in from above, and choosing the spot on the map where they want to land. Interestingly, you can also see where other players are planning to touchdown (as well as those already on the map), along with key items on the map. Upon landing, you rush around, picking up health, new weapons (if you choose to), and trying to take down others.
The time-to-kill in Drawn to Death is rather high, which means extensive shootouts are common. In fact, by far the most common and easier way to score is by picking off stragglers who were just engaged in a firefight, or ganging up on a player – both easily accomplished as you spawn in and can see where players are. The game is quite liberal at showing enemy locations, often showing icons through walls. Aiming and ground controls feel OK, though it takes time to get used to swapping between your regular and special weapons, and jumping/gliding around the air feels awkward. Also, interestingly enough, players get to choose what special weapons will spawn on the map for them to pickup, so you know you can at least expect to find your favorite gun somewhere.
Players will be battling using one of the six included characters. Each character can be levelled up by completing various challenges, and you also earn so called “blood keys” by playing well, which are used to unlock new weapons. All weapons are shared across the different characters for the sake of balance, and range from the fairly standard rocket launchers and shotguns to the more outlandish guns that feel like something Insomniac Games would come up with. While there are no damage stats, generally the more powerful weapons have increasingly long reload times, limited ammo, and/or range limitations. It takes a bit of time to earn the keys, so it may be a while before you unlock all weapons, but it doesn’t feel like a grind. You can also unlock everything right away by paying some real money. What does feel like a grind is unlocking new taunts and character skins via the Mystery Box – the fairly standard randomized reward approach of modern multiplayer games. You earn new boxes at every 150 kills, or for playing well in Ranked modes. This, too, can be purchased with cash.
So while the loadouts are the same, each hero features unique special abilities that help them stand out. Each of the two specials are unlocked from the start, and often have devastating abilities. Johnny Savage can summon a demon from underground, Bronco can call for help from a flying drone, and Ninjaw can chain enemies in place temporarily. Each special attack has a cooldown, and its effectiveness often depends on your timing and aim precision. Characters also have unique moves, such as Cyborgula’s ability to fly around, Diabla’s increased weapon damage when kneeling. To add further complexity, each character has a specific strength and weakness against one other hero. It’s an impressively complex design, and though it feels balanced, some abilities are clearly more useful depending on the match type and number of players, as well as heroes having so much health. It also feels largely unnecessary – most encounters, even in competitive modes, see two players meeting, deploying all their specials at once, and hoping to survive anyone who arrives late to pick them off. Extensive encounter planning doesn’t seem to really come into play.
Multiplayer is split into three areas – Friendly mode, where you can casually explore the maps, and no experience is earned; Unranked mode, which is competitive and earns you experience; and the Ranked Tower. In Ranked Tower, your goal is to perform well and win matches, so that you can climb all 25 floors. Depending on the number of players in a match and the final standings, you’re awarded or subtracted stars; a certain amount of stars is required to reach the next floor, or you could also fall back down. The system seems a bit too punishing – losing a match/being last will always cost you, and with matchmaking results often being lopsided (in number of players and skill levels), it doesn’t really feel very fun. You also can't pick what mode you wish to play in Unraked/Ranked modes.
It’s rather disappointing that across all its modes, the maximum number of participants per match is 4. This naturally limits the amount of gameplay match modes that can be present, and they are quite vanilla indeed. In Deathmatch and Team DM, the first person/team to reach 10/20 kills wins, respectively. In Core Deathmatch and Core Team DM (only available in competitive mode) dying loses you a point, which means this mode variant can be a bit more back-and-forth. If you end up in a 1vs1, the maps are artificially limited in space to promote a higher intensity shootout. There’s a bit more fun and strategy to be had in the objective based mode called Organ Donor. Somewhat similar to Kill Confirmed in Call of Duty, this free-for-all mode sees players collect hearts from enemies they eliminate, and bring them back to a base to score points. When this mode is played as 1v1, it can be even more intense as the hearts pile up and the next score could win the entire game.
As you can imagine, playing with just 4 participants is really not very enticing in its scale and amount of action. Further complicating things are some of the design choices and technical troubles. Matchmaking can take a while, as there doesn’t appear to be very many people playing. Once another player is found, a brief countdown begins to start the match – even if the two last slots remain empty. This sort of approach ensures you’ll be getting a game as soon as at least one opponent is found, but it also means there are tons of games that don’t even have the full four players. Drawn to Death servers also experience a seemingly large amount of lag, with enemy players teleporting around the map frequently, or even freezing in place for minutes at a time. There are tons of disconnects mid-match as well, which results in 1v1 scenarios that cause the game to declare a “next kill wins” state – and it doesn’t even bother letting players respawn and restrategize when that happens. Similarly, if you lose your partner in team deathmatch, you'll get a bonus to stand a chance in a 2v1 situation. If a player is losing poorly in a lopsided match, they will also receive a damage and health bonus. How balanced this approach is remains questionable. Last but not least, there are some gameplay bugs, like Bronco's shots being blocked by his own drone flying too close, or the special attacks of other characters simply misfiring (potentially due to lag) .
Drawn to Death is a game that’s more about style than substance. The unique art style is very well executed and quite cool to see, and if you’re a fan of the general teenage angst attitude, you will get a few chuckles from the overload of profanity. It’s not necessarily a shallow experience – the mechanics are actually relatively complex in the character abilities, and at very high level play it could very well be a unique experience, but vast majority of players are unlikely to stick around that long. The controls and action itself just doesn’t feel wholly refined or all that fun, and with a very low 4 player limit, and high time-to-kill, the thrills are far and few between. Add to that the multiplayer matchmaking troubles and general technical issues, and its appeal fades rather quickly. Check it out for its art style if you're a PS+ subscriber as it is free this month, but otherwise the $20 asking price is a bit high.