|Developer||The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency|
|Publisher||Sony Interactive Entertainment|
|Release Date||April 4, 2017|
Drawn To Death is a third-person arena combat shooter set inside the notebook drawings of an edgy teenager who is suffering through a CPR class in high school. Rather than pay attention to a boring teacher droning on (we’ve all been there), this kid instead focuses on his notebook, where his drawings come to life in brutally violent action gameplay with a huge debt to punk rock and garage death metal.
There’s a lot to take in within your opening moments with Drawn To Death, a game which is overflowing with the kind of creativity that only comes from complete artistic freedom. The first thing that jumps out at you will be the art style. In screenshots this game looks fantastic. Its character models, arenas and even its menus are highly detailed and all play into this singular artistic vision.
Everything looks like those drawings that one kid doodled with a biro while he was bored in class (you know the kid, the one that was super into obscure metal bands). An incredible amount of care and attention has gone into this game’s aesthetic. There’s also an equal amount of attention given to the game’s ancillary story details – world building takes the form of an FMV cutscene that takes place during the game’s opening, with a huge amount of depth hidden in the notes scrawled throughout each of the game’s arenas.
In motion, however, Drawn To Deaths’s art style quickly reveals some problems. While the game does look great, the lack of colour throughout the game can make it incredibly difficult to play. Drawn To Death’s HUD does a poor job of showing you vital information, leaving you unaware of your health or how long the is left on the cooldown of your special abilities. It’s visuals are quite novel at first, with an impressive level of detail, but this quickly gives way to a game that is a visual mess in motion.
Moment to moment, Drawn To Death suffers from its gameplay feeling half baked. It never really feels like you’ve got too much control over your characters thanks to some floaty, imprecise controls. Movement, turning, aiming, shooting and jumping all feel off, as though it’s never quite down to your skill as to whether you’re going to win a match or even get some kills. Throw in some sluggishness that makes Drawn To Death feel less than responsive and you’ve got a game that is more frustration than anything.
This is compounded by the game suffering from some pretty serious balance problems at launch. There are a decent amount of weapons to unlock through the game. Some are your fairly standard selection of assault rifles, shotguns and the like. Others are more inventive, such as the video game console that launches JRPG cartridges or the tombstone that literally launches dead bodies at your foes. None of it matters, however, when there are one or two weapons that are clearly more powerful than the rest.
The game’s roster similarly suffers from a lack of balance. Some characters are just more useful than others. While each character has their pros and cons, some are quite simply underpowered when thrown into battle. Each character has a set of special abilities tied to them in the form of unique moves and passive buffs that make them fundamentally different from one another. Unfortunately, some are more useful than others. Johnny Savage, for example, has a moveset that requires too much precision and slows him down too much for Drawn To Death’s fast-paced gameplay, making him entirely ineffective.
The game does attempt to enforce balancing by having certain characters more effective against others. It’s an admirable attempt to balance the game that never quite works. Balance and counters occur in other arena shooters organically thanks to immaculate game design. Implementing a system where one hero is strong against one character but weak against another doesn’t work, because it’s impossible to know which characters you’ll be facing from match to match, and you can’t swap mid-battle to take advantage of strengths and weaknesses.
The arenas you’ll be fighting in are incredibly well designed. They’re built around speed and verticality, with multiple levels and some maps even changing mid-game to try and keep players on their toes. While verticality is an issue thanks to awkward button mapping and no way to change the button layout, meaning to jump you’ll need to take your thumb off the analogue stick that lets you aim, the maps are pretty great. It’s just a shame that they never reach their full potential due to the issues in control and balancing.
And that’s when you’re even able to get into a game. Whether through poorly implemented matchmaking or a low player count, finding a match in Drawn To Death can be tough. Wait times of up to 10 minutes were not uncommon while I was playing the game. Even when I was able to find a match it was rarely full (and even those that were full never ended with a full compliment of players). It’s a worrying sign for a newly released game that only requires four players.
A lack of game modes doesn’t really help sell Drawn To Death. Three of the four modes revolve around deathmatch – either 1v1, 2v2 or 3-4 player free-for-alls. The other game mode revolves around killing players, collecting hearts they drop and depositing them in a moving goal. There’s no real variety to the game and things can start to feel repetitive fairly quickly. The game doesn’t really offer much incentive to keep playing, with your rewards for playing being boxes that unlock cosmetic skins and new taunts (which you can, of course, buy for real money).
And then there’s the game’s presentation, which has been divisive among gamers and critics alike. Drawn To Death is a vulgar game, effectively taking the tone and language of your average voice chat in other online games and building itself around that. By the time you’ve played a handful of games you’ll have been berated by a frog who continuously claims he’s fucked your mother, been reminded time and again how much you suck by the announcer and been subjected to the endless memes that make up the game’s taunts. It gets on your nerves after a while and reminded me why I turned off voice chat in online multiplayer years ago.
Drawn To Death is an interesting idea that has been poorly implemented. The art style is fantastic to look at, but it’s at odds with the gameplay and isn’t helped by a lacklustre HUD. The gameplay, which features sluggish controls, is hampered by a lack of balance, with certain characters and weapons being obviously overpowered compared to others, making the otherwise excellently designed arenas you’ll fight in otherwise moot.
A lack of modes and the game constantly berating and insulting you will probably be what eventually turns you away from the game. With patches and an effort to balance the gameplay, Drawn To Death could turn into an interesting game. However there doesn’t seem to be a population to support the game long term. The game is endlessly creative with a unique artistic vision, but the underlying gameplay is, quite simply, a bit dull.
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