One of the longest-awaited PlayStation 4 titles, Drawn to Death delivers a semi-satisfying online multiplayer experience, full of violence and gore. From the insane mind of Twisted Metal creator David Jaffe, this title aims to bring the mind of an angsty student to life, combining pencil-sketched animations with vulgarity and brutality. Fortunately, Drawn to Death certainly delivers, although its appeal does run thin quickly, and it’s hard to tell if it can stand up against the pantheon of online shooters.
The game begins with a tutorial mission that teaches the basics of third-person shooting. I urge new players not to skip this tutorial, as there are tons of weapons are at your disposal, and you’ll learn every aspect of the unique gameplay. On top of all this, the tutorial is where the comedy really shines: dialogue is on point in Drawn to Death, led by an apathetic frog narrator, who both teaches and belittles you throughout the level. He’s sarcastic, lewd, and adds some flavour to the whole training system. It’s a shame Drawn to Death doesn’t have any single-player story mode to continue on with, as this level leaves you wanting more humor and bloody fun against AI enemies.
Once you complete the tutorial mission, you’re sent right into online multiplayer. In the beginning, the only lobby available is “Friendly”. This is where you can play against your friends in custom lobbies, or against other online players. The downside is that no XP can be earned in these matches, so all you can really do is test the waters before the real fun begins. After ten matches are won, however, you can unlock the “Ranked” lobby. Here, you can earn XP and level up your characters by playing matches, as well as unlocking new weapons and completing side missions, which I’ll touch upon shortly.
Drawn to Death features an eccentric cast of playable antiheroes, each with their own set of attributes that makes them feel incredibly different from the others. I was truly surprised by how different each character feels to play, especially with such a small roster (six in total to choose from). For example, Bronco, the one-legged marine, plays much differently than the robotic vampire, Cyborgula. Their diverse special abilities (the former can slide, while the latter has ability to fly) drastically changes the gameplay depending on which character you choose. Even minor details, like the change in background music depending on the player character, makes the gameplay even more varied each time you jump into a match.
Aside from those abilities, every character gets their own special power, which is mapped to the circle button and utilizes a cooldown timer. These powers range from Johnny Savage’s guitar-based attacks, to NinJaw’s ability to throw sharks at people for massive damage. It’s really nice to experience an online “hero shooter” where every character is truly unique. I never found myself getting tired of cycling through the characters and learning all of their abilities. Also, with such a small roster, I was able to easily choose a “main”, and stick with the character that best suited me. Over time, you can level up these characters in Ranked matches, and earn more keys for chests.
Considering there is no story mode in Drawn to Death, the draw (no pun intended) of playing online is customization. There are countless things to unlock, from the multiple weapons, to numerous skins for each character, to the interesting Sphinx on the main menu, which will supposedly do something if you feed it enough keys. These keys can be collected in many different ways, and they’re the key (pun intended) to unlocking everything in Drawn to Death.
One way to earn keys is by leveling up your character, which is easier said than done. It requires winning quite a few matches as one character, and even that’s a struggle (which I’ll get to eventually). The other way to earn keys, as mentioned before, is by completing side missions given to you in every match. These missions range from getting a certain amount of grenade kills, to gathering specific weapons scattered around the battlefield. Every time a mission is completed or a character levels up, the blood you earned gets added to a meter, and will eventually form a key you can use to unlock the aforementioned upgrades. Or you can just spend your keys on chests for new skins, levels, etc. Of course, for those who feel so inclined, there are always microtransactions for the chests as well.
The customization options and unlockables are where Drawn to Death really shines in terms of creativity. For starters, the weapons have an insane amount of variety, from shotguns that shoot axe blades at enemies once the clip is empty, to a weapon that is literally just a man severed from waist up that attaches to your character, and tosses exploding dodgeballs at your opponents. The game is batshit crazy, and takes every opportunity to prove it. For example, at some points in the battle, you can fill a meter which allows you to summon the artist’s hand into the game. He can fire projectiles from his finger gun, and punch the ground, shattering it beneath his fist while the player character rides atop said giant hand. Unfortunately, this gimmick was extremely underutilized, as I never saw it being used once while playing online. On top of the weapons, the heroes’ unlockable skins do a great job of showing off the game’s unique art style. I appreciated one costume set in particular which colored every character to look like a crayon drawing. The attention to detail while making everything look hand-drawn is impeccable.
The incredible art style goes even further than just the characters. Every level is sketched to perfection, and feels like a real drawing come to life. My favorite was Vertigo, a destroyed city created entirely of collapsed buildings. This makes for a fairly hectic firefight, even with just four players. The verticality of the gameplay makes shooting even more crazy, since multiple characters are able to fly up to higher vantage points. Portals and launchpads also make the battle more fast-paced. It’s just a shame that the crosshairs are so small- it’s incredibly hard to aim at an enemy as they fly through the air, which brings me to the downside of Drawn to Death.
While the game is certainly one hell of a time, Drawn to Death isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and that’s not just because of all the blood (and trust me, there is a lot of blood). My biggest gripe with the game is the difficulty of its own shooting mechanics. What lies behind the eye-catching visuals and the heavy metal soundtrack is a fairly confusing third-person shooter that I frequently found myself getting lost in, and not in a good way. I mentioned earlier that the game’s aiming is a wonky mess, but sensitivity options aside, the crosshairs themselves are so miniscule that I often lost track of them in the action. On top of that, every weapon has its own reticle, which varies in size and shape, making it so hard to aim at an enemy whenever you swap your gun.
Perhaps I’m just terrible at the game, but when game modes like team deathmatch have require only 5 kills to win the round, it’s hard to believe the game wasn’t designed to make shooting difficult. Furthermore, the verticality I loved so much in the beginning quickly became an issue, as the addition of flying characters and players bouncing all around the map made for quite the dizzying experience. Essentially, the game is only fun in short bursts; focus on the visuals and the crude humor, before you realize the game itself isn’t very fun to play.
Fortunately, the aforementioned game modes were unique enough to keep me entertained for a while. Drawn to Death features four different game modes, which are cycled randomly when playing online. Players can vote for the next map once a match is created, but I wish it was possible to vote for the mode as well. On the bright side, I thoroughly enjoyed every game mode, from standards like Team Deathmatch – which pits two teams of two against each other – to my favorite new mode, Organ Donor. In this mode, players are killed and then drop hearts, which must be picked up by the killer, a la Kill Confirmed in Call of Duty. The catch is that these hearts must then be returned to a drop zone, which may be stationary at one end of the arena, or it may be mobile, forcing you to defend yourself as you drop the hearts off and your drop zone moves around. This capture the flag-esque gameplay added some variety to Drawn to Death, but it wasn’t enough to overcome my problems with the shooting.
It’s not impossible to enjoy Drawn to Death. I’ve been following its development for many years now, and even if it wasn’t free with PlayStation Plus, I think it’s worth the $20 price tag for the experience alone. The concept is brilliant, the visuals are incredible, and the game modes are engaging enough for a few hours of play time. However, I feel like Drawn to Death could have been a lot better than the finished product we received. I have no idea why there aren’t more characters, more modes, better gameplay mechanics, etc. It just feels lacking. I still think that if you give Drawn to Death a shot, you won’t be disappointed at first. Give it some time, however, and your thirst for blood will eventually become a hunger for…anything else.