Drawn to Death, by The Bartlett Jones Supernatural Detective Agency and Sony San Diego, released this month (initially as a free PS Plus title), the brainchild of ex-God of War and Twisted Metal developer David Jaffe. Instead of taking on gods or crashing cars, though, this time we're playing a multiplayer arena game, and we've had some time to dive into the action Drawn to Death offers which, as expected, is currently populated with people due to its release as a free game (it costs £15.99 normally).
To start with, its unique selling point is its art style, with the whole game framed around this idea that everything is taking place in the notebook of a kid in a classroom who, considering the language used, is probably a teenager. This permeates through everything from the menus to the tutorials and the game itself, although the game itself is 3D rather than being on the pages of a 2D notebook.
Multiplayer matches see four players (the maximum you can have in a map) battle it out in a variety of game modes, including free-for-all and team deathmatch, on a selection of maps, and from there you can customise your weapon loadout, characters, skins, taunts, and more, with item boxes available to unlock more of everything. Once you enter a match it's pretty much your standard third-person shooter, then, where you shoot your enemies until they're dead, and the first to the score limit wins.
This "shoot them until they're dead" concept is where our issues with Drawn to Death already start to emerge, though, as enemies take so long to die that it's immediately frustrating. It's bad enough to the point where you can literally sneak up behind an enemy who's stationary, aim a shot at their head, open fire, and they'll realise and jump away before you've got half of their health down. Even the special abilities often don't do that much damage.
The jumping also makes killing people even more difficult, as players can jump incredibly high and hang in the air for long enough to make hitting them a real mission, and a lot of the time Drawn to Death becomes a battle between enemies jumping all over the map spraying bullets at one another. With the kills needed to win only being 10 in most modes, you'd think this would be achieved quite quickly, but with the ease of evasion coupled with the difficulty of landing shots, this means matches can drag on a bit.
The maps don't help with this either. A lot of multiplayer games these days try to produce that buzz word 'verticality' and Drawn to Death does this too, except huge cavernous spaces and big buildings to traverse don't particularly suit a game that has a maximum of four players a match, as the challenge can often be just to find people. The maps would be way more fun to play around in if there were more people to engage in battle, but it just seems a lifeless maze without that.
To give credit where credit is due, the maps aren't always a pain, and some of the hidden areas are interesting and force you to rethink your tactics. The close-quarters corridors, for example, tighten the action and make things a bit more intense, whereas things like staircases allow you to disorientate your open quite easily, the same being the case with the jump pads too, which can launch you into different sections of the level. These classic arcade concepts are glimmers of the games that Drawn to Death is trying to emulate, and work very well in producing different gameplay options.
To circle back to the customisation options, there are plenty to choose from, and the variety of skins is rather cool, with references to God of War (unsurprisingly) sprinkled in with other interesting designs. There's also a number of different weapons, but while the skins are purely aesthetic, the weapons affect gameplay hugely, and not always in a great way.
As expected, better weapons are unlocked as you progress, which is reasonable, but some are so much better than others that it becomes unbalanced. The lack of balance, however, applies far more to the characters, especially the teddy bear, Alan, who is far more powerful than others in the game. Kit him out with the best weaponry and learn how to use him, then, and you've got a winning formula, and as a result, you'll rarely find a match where he's not being played.
Attempting to tie the whole package together is a sense of humour that is fitting of the teenage kid the game's notebook is owned by, but that never really goes beyond just reproducing stereotypes. There's memes, swearing, and obscenity, but this isn't done in an interesting way. Most people (even teenagers to be honest) will have probably grown out of the humour this offers, and don't get us started on the frog that guides you through the main menu. Not only does he not stop talking, but he requires you to hold down X at each section of a series of speech bubbles to skip, which as you can imagine becomes frustrating very quickly.
All in all there are interesting ideas here, with arenas reminiscent of old arcade shooters and a unique art style, but alas the execution isn't there. Different factors such as the length of time it takes to kill an opponent, combined with maps that are too big, produces a pretty underwhelming multiplayer experience. Despite depth in terms of customisation, the gameplay feels very bare and lacking, and no amount of skins, weapons, and taunts can change that.