A miss and a hit both, Drawn to Death is nonetheless unique enough to draw at least some attention.
I have greatly enjoyed David Jaffe’s previous works so when he announced Drawn to Death, his new highly stylized, uber violent shooter, my interest was piqued. I’m someone who appreciates my shooters to look, feel, and play different – I’m more likely to play Overwatch or Splatoon than Call of Duty or Battlefield. Drawn To Death fit that to a T, and it was coming from one of my favorite creators as well. I was intrigued, even when so few others were.
On the whole, I think the game is a success- it certainly stands out as far different from any other shooter on the market, for sure. That said, however, there are some severe missteps here that stop it from reaching its full potential. Drawn To Death definitely has style – and that style isn’t just superficial, its very look defines everything about it – but the actual gameplay here is rather severely lacking in a lot of important areas. It’s still a fun game to play – when you can find others to play with – but there is the distinct feeling here that this game could definitely have used more time in the oven.
"The concept of Drawn to Death is that it is the doodles that a teenage boy scribbled out in class come to life- so we have crudely drawn characters battling each other in a highly stylized notebook aesthetic."
Let’s start with the game’s look, because that was the most divisive thing about it. The concept of Drawn to Death is that it is the doodles that a teenage boy scribbled out in class come to life- so we have crudely drawn characters battling each other in a highly stylized notebook aesthetic. The looks may look frenetic and too busy to actually work for a game, and especially something as fast paced as a shooter- but it’s, on the whole, a successful experiment. There are certainly times when how the game looks can be distracting, and actively impede the player’s cognition or perception of the action on screen, but on the whole, the game seems to benefit from the look, simply because its entire construction is around its art style and concept as a center of orbit. Visually, the style is a success- the trouble with its tone comes, well, just about everywhere else.
So, like in any teenage boy’s doodles, the drawings are crude, and profanities and immature humor abound- if you have kids or family around, you probably want to play this game with headphones on, because the humor here can frankly be embarrassing. There may be times when you crack a smile at the sheer absurdity of things, and how over the top it all is- but most of the times, you’ll just be cringing. Generally speaking, I’m not one to recommend games (or recommend against them) based on their sense of aesthetic and style- but Drawn to Death is so thoroughly committed to putting us inside the mind of a teenage boy, that it can get grating and off putting.
"The look may look frenetic and too busy to actually work for a game, and especially something as fast paced as a shooter- but it’s, on the whole, a successful experiment."
If you can look past how immature Drawn to Death is, then you’ll find a surprisingly fun and competent multiplayer arena shooter waiting for you. Drawn to Death eschews the high player counts of most modern shooters, and settles for four player per match- that’s it, just four players. Battles see you take control of one of many different characters- all of which are, again, right out of a high school kid’s imagination. It’s here that the game benefits the most from its aesthetic. Characters are hilariously over the top, inappropriately named, absurdly overdesigned, and they have all sorts of weird powers. They’re all well balanced, mind – the game doesn’t sacrifice playability for aesthetic – but they’re just so ridiculous that it’s just fun to play as each of them, and try to figure out the ropes of the game.
Characters are differentiated enough, especially in terms of their powers, but they are still largely similar, so that you will be comfortable switching from one to the other at a notice. They’re not as distinct as characters in Overwatch are, and are more along the lines of different loadouts in Splatoon– there are some differences that can lend themselves really well to different play styles, but overall and holistically, largely the same.
The moment to moment gameplay of Drawn to Death is likely to be its next biggest source of division, after the game’s tone and aesthetic- while Drawn to Death is ostensibly an arena shooter, it lacks the speed and inertia of those older games. It plays slower, and is far floatier than any comparable games, including, yes, Overwatch and Splatoon. It can be jarring and off putting at first, because of how slow and floaty things are- and you will certainly find many who proclaim the game a failure, or swear off of it, as a result. But the game’s more deliberate speed is definitely a conscious design choice, and it seems to be well balanced around it.
"The game’s more deliberate speed is definitely a conscious design choice, and it seems to be well balanced around it. "
As for whether or not it is fun- I believe once you get used to it, it definitely is. Characters feel like they fit in with the game’s pace, and given the smaller player count, smaller arenas, and even the game’s art, it all feels well suited to it. Once you get acclimatized, Drawn to Death becomes uniquely compelling to play in its own way.
As of right now, it is suffering from online connectivity issues, however- match making can take forever, and it looks like the latest update has completely broken server and client connections. Lag during matches can be an unfortunate occurrence, and can often interfere with play. But things are largely smooth (well, apart from being totally unable to play the game right now, that is…), and in the end, contribute to a game that, while making a lot of missteps, ends up coming together and feels like a fun, unique shooter. If you’re a PS Plus subscriber, it’s a free download for you, and definitely something to check out. Like the doodles in a high schooler’s notebook, there’s a lot of faff here- but buried underneath all of that is some genuinely compelling stuff, which hints at potential.
This game was reviewed on PlayStation 4.
Its vibrant art style and aesthetic, differentiated and imaginative characters, and its slower pace of gameplay, which works well with its look.
Cringe inducing attempts at juvenile teenage humor, connectivity issues, slower pace of gameplay may turn a lot of players off
Drawn to Death is neither a total hit, nor a complete misfire- it does a lot of things wrong, but it also does enough things right for it to end up as one of the most thoroughly unique, if flawed, shooters on the market.