Drawn to Death is an empty sketchbook of ideas

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‘Drawn to Death’s obscene content could be forgiven if the mechanics weren’t utterly dreadful.

Picture the sketchbook of an immature, teenage boy — all those pent up hormones, anger, violence, and sexual frustration, channeled through frantic pencil scribbles. Even the most cynical among you probably gave these hypothetical teenagers a great deal more credit than the developers at The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency did in Drawn to Death, newly released for the PlayStation 4.

The latest game from the mind of Twisted Metal and God of War creator David Jaffe is a third-person shooter that places four players in a hand drawn arena of the most depraved teenager you’ve ever met and asks them to blow each other’s brains out. The main draw of Drawn to Death is clearly in its aesthetic — it certainly doesn’t aspire to redefine or even match modern third person shooter conventions — but it fails to make good use of an art style that, if executed legibly and with imagination, could have been great.

Shallow, tedious combat is pasted on top of visuals that are too often beyond the pale. Drawn to Death gets a few cheap laughs, but then piles on its apparently teenage brand of humor until you feel gross about smirking in the first place.

A foul-mouthed frog teacher

For reasons never explained, you are guided through the game’s menu and progression systems by a foul-mouthed frog. The unnamed frog also serves as your teacher in the tutorial, though his teaching style goes well past tough love into pure sadism. Our angry frog guide makes an abundance of observations and presumptions that cannot be printed here, but the general gist is that he cusses you out — excessively.

The style could work if done confidently, but the writing is constantly undercut by its transparent effort to be edgy. Lines of dialogue fall flat when a moment after a sentence ends, the frog predictably tacks on a vile pejorative for shock value. Yes, because X-rated frogs are exactly what we desire. To be clear, we don’t take any issue with an offensive frog in the abstract, just its terrible execution here.

The worst internet memes for your viewing displeasure

Drawn to Death’s most novel aspect, the hand-drawn world, feels disingenuous. Try-hard dialogue serves as a precursor for what’s to come when you actually take to the pages and duke it out. All throughout each of the five maps, you’ll run into snippets of “teenage humor,” along with the aforementioned sketches. It’s as if the developers at The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency performed a Google search for “most disgusting internet memes,” compiled the results, and then haplessly scribbled them across the walls and fixtures. A game set inside a teenager’s sketchbook could actually be cool, just not one that seems dredged from the murky depths of 4chan.

The game’s presentation issues extend beyond the simple drawing and writing on the game’s environments. The action is framed by what can aptly be described as a chaotic, creeping mess of an unsound mind. Perhaps that’s the point: Maybe the game’s UI is supposed to be rough, distracting, and generally unintuitive compared to modern games. Although considering that the teenager’s sketchbook is very much indebted to the age of the meme, it seems that a cobbled together, bordering on amateurish, UI should’ve kept up with the times rather than pushing us backwards. Instead, random objects obscure your vision during battles, unneeded text pops up at inopportune moments, and the general mess on screen muddles any visual enjoyment that could be had.

Mechanically archaic

Yes, a strictly multiplayer shooter with no real plot outside of “look at these random teenage drawings” and “listen to how dirty this frog is” shouldn’t necessarily be taken to task for its framework — but its gratuitous nature is further amplified by the fact that some of its gameplay feels as if it were ripped from a 90s era shooter, and not in a good way.

Shallow, tedious combat is pasted on top of visuals that are often too far beyond the pale.

Drawn to Death literally drops you from the sky into each of its five drawn maps. The default character is Johnny Savage — think of the stock protagonist from Sunset Overdrive, but not as cool. There are five additional characters, including a shark who wears heels, and a chainsaw-wielding bear. All of the maps are relatively small, so Drawn to Death has an arena shooter vibe in practice. The environments are made even smaller because the game tells you exactly where each of your opponents are at all times. It’s a bizarre choice, especially considering that you pick where you spawn while gliding down to the page.

The setup turns each match into a brawl in a fixed location, and not one that rewards skill, as “kill stealing” is a frequent occurrence. Let your opponents knock out a large chunk of the ridiculous health meter — represented for yourself as an annoying percentage — and then sweep in and clean it up.

In fact, it might be more enjoyable to simply watch the bear and the shark struggle to kill each other, as the gunplay mechanics and execution feel barely more refined than Jet Force Gemini on Nintendo 64. Unlike other modern shooters, you don’t feel as if you are shooting a gun or brandishing any of the melee weapons. Enemies are bullet sponges, sure, but shooting in Drawn to Death feels like spraying bullets into an empty abyss; there’s none of the visceral feedback we’ve have come to expect from modern shooters. It also doesn’t help matters that there’s no strafing, which would’ve at least added a little more tactical depth to its currently flat battles

Drawn to Death’s mechanical failings obscure the game’s progression system and unlockables. There’s a wide variety of weapons — 28 total in the base package — but because the combat mechanics are so flawed and archaic, unlocking a new weapon fails to excite or change the experience in any profound way. Ranked and unranked play each of help level up characters to unlock new skills, but again, the core experience is neither compelling nor competent enough to lure you with new aspects of the meta-game.

Drawn to Death could’ve been an interesting experiment had the mechanics hewed more modern, and if the aesthetic hadn’t veered so far off the beaten path. Instead, what we have here is an inauthentic, mindless romp that substitutes coherent ideas for shock humor and banality.

Highs

  • Free with PS Plus in April, 2017

Lows

  • Extremely crude
  • Dated mechanics
  • Nonsensical spawn system
  • Cluttered UI
  • Needlessly profane frog



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