How Far Can Drawn to Death's Intriguing Aesthetic Take It?
You might say the art style is twisted and metal.
When Drawn to Death was announced at PlayStation Experience last year, I was immediately intrigued by the art style. It's meant to evoke the twisted drawings of middle-school boys, with exaggerated characters and over-the-top weapons. Color is used sparingly but effectively, filling certain portions of the levels to distinguish their parts. It's all designed as if the levels are notebook doodles come to life.
But regardless of the art style, an arena shooter needs to do arena shooting well. After playing a couple team deathmatch rounds, I came away unsure of whether Twisted Metal designer David Jaffe's newest creation could hang with the rest of the genre.
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When you spawn into a game in Drawn to Death, you free fall into a notebook page and hurtle toward a tiny map drawn in one corner. It gives you a chance to move your character around and decide where on the map you want to spawn. I found this to be a nice feature, allowing me to either jump right into the thick of the action or to hang back and plan a strategy of attack.
After falling into the level, you spawn with a gun, a melee weapon, and a launcher of some kind. I used an assault rifle, a guitar-turned-battle axe, and a gun that shot balls that could do damage if they struck enemies. But when I began playing, I was most concerned with trying to get accustomed to my player's movement.
Your character is agile. He can double-jump, mantling buildings and flinging himself through windows. I had a great time bounding over rooftops and getting the drop on enemies on the ground below. But this ease of vertical movement comes with a strange trade-off: your horizontal movement is slow and plodding. I expected to zip around the map like other fast-paced arena shooters, but instead the walking speed isn't well-tuned to how fast you can move upward.
Further, the sprint felt less like a coordinated run and more like a full-on, head-down burst toward whichever way I was looking. Once I started sprinting, it was hard to change direction, making sprint generally useless in the tight spaces of the map I played on. I also found myself fighting with the sprint button, trying and failing to keep up a sustained sprint. Unlike other shooters, your character doesn't continue to sprint for a short time after you tap the sprint button. You have to hold the thumb stick down to keep running.
When you get to a battle with another player, the guns come out and the bullets start flying everywhere. The 2v2 games in Drawn to Death actually lend themselves to near-constant action, and I was always trying to take down enemies. The act of killing foes, though, was more frustrating that it should have been. Characters are bullet sponges, taking massive amounts of damage before dying. I emptied what felt like nearly a hundred shots from my gun before my target finally died, and even though I had gotten the drop on him, I came away nearly dead myself. Even the high-damage weapons, like grenades, only take away a quarter of a character's health, requiring you to continue to dump bullets into it.
I also felt like the guns I used were irritatingly imprecise, undermining my attempts to square up head shots. A seemingly immense bullet spread brought on situations where both an enemy and I would face off and start shooting from a relatively small distance, and it would be several seconds before either of us had taken any hits.
It felt lethargic when it should have been hectic and empowering. Playing as a slow, walking tank with an inaccurate and weak gun contradicted that twisted, middle-school fantasy that Drawn to Death is built on.
To give it credit, that fantasy is so cool. I found a lot of potential in my time with the game. My favorite moment was when I discovered my melee weapon and pulled out a guitar. My character began to strum furiously as he entered battle, very reminiscent of the guitar-wielding Doof Warrior of Mad Max: Fury Road. I jumped up high near an enemy and crashed down in a booming ground pound that severely hurt my foe. This move exhausted, I swung my guitar back and forth in a melee attack that also shot grenades around everywhere, further hurting the enemy. Then, switching to a launcher, I lobbed a ball at him and caught him in the chest, injuring him even more. I finished him off with my machine gun, landing a shot to the head which finally felled him.
In that moment I felt powerful and I saw the crazy, eccentric goal of Jaffe's game. There's something to this caricatured, exaggerated, twisted game, something that could lead to a fun and chaotic arena shooter. But its unique art style only goes so far. It needs the gameplay to fit the aesthetic. If that happens, then we should all look out for Drawn to Death when it comes out later this year.
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