It’s 1985 in Mountain Brook, Alabama. At the local high school, the pupils in one particular classroom are trying to get a grasp on Pythagoras’s theorem as the teacher scribbles furiously across the board. All have their heads planted firmly in their textbook, except for one kid in the corner. He’s working too, but it certainly isn’t anything to do with Pythagoras. He’s more interested in figuring out whether the character he’s been doodling should wield dual nun-chucks or a giant laser rifle. This boy is a young David Jaffe, the creative director responsible for the original Twisted Metal and God of War games, and in thirty years’ time, these doodles will form the inspiration for his next video game, Drawn to Death.
Drawn to Death, a multiplayer shooter set inside the pages of a teenager’s notebook, was first announced at the PlayStation Experience Conference in December 2014. Its distinct notebook-style aesthetic proved to be a turn-off for some. In response, Jaffe posted a video to his YouTube channel in which a character from Drawn to Death reads through internet criticism of the game and responds to the naysayers via curse-laden putdowns.
The video was eventually taken down (the version above is a bootleg). But this no-nonsense attitude, which Jaffe is infamous for, permeates the style and tone of Drawn to Death itself. The narrator of the game constantly mocks and bullies the player, while the in-game tutorials and menus are littered with all sorts of vulgarities and expletives. This may come across as too alienating for some, but if you can see past all taht, Drawn to Death offers plenty of euphoric gratification in its moment-to-moment gameplay.
Having first played the game at PlayStation Experience last year, before taking part in the recent private access alpha, my eyes have been witness to every kind of absurdity you’d expect to find in the imagination of an adolescent doodler. A robot vampire, a foul-mouthed frog and a homicidal teddy bear named Alan; Jaffe’s development studio, The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency, have made no compromises in transferring these doodles from the scrap paper to the screen.
There are plenty of characters to choose from before you enter the 4-versus-4 Team Deathmatch that represents the meat and bones of the game, which results in a healthy amount of variety in terms of playstyle. The aforementioned Alan can turn invisible and throw his chainsaw towards unsuspecting players for a brutal kill, while Johnny Savage—a punk rocker with a taste for violence—can jam on his Fender to stun players in the vicinity.
Drawn to Death also features a diverse arsenal, with guns littered around the maps for players to enjoy. A particular favorite of mine is “Uncle Joe”, a coffin which launches a zombie corpse for tremendous damage on impact. It’s great for achieving collateral damage, but the trade-off is a tremendously slow reload time as your character must resurrect another body from the soil below.
This creative approach to combat results in a multiplayer experience bursting with unadulterated carnage, and the sheer craziness of it all is an adrenaline rush in itself. There’s some room for improvement, but with no official release date yet in sight, Jaffe and the developers at The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency have plenty of time to iron out the bumps.
They plan to release Drawn to Death as a free-to-play game, but Jaffe himself has already stressed that players wary of such models have no need to be anxious. Writing on the Drawn to Death subreddit last year, Jaffe stated that the studio “dislikes traditional free to play games very, very much” and, as such, are “constantly staying engaged with the fans…to hit the game’s sweet spot”.
True to Jaffe’s word, The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency have constantly been updating fans on the progress of the game’s development, handing out download codes for free beta tests and asking for advice on almost every aspect of the game for incorporation into the development process. In an era where even Kickstarter projects, which are supposed to have involvement from fans at every step can lose touch with their backers, Jaffe and co. are setting a healthy standard by maintaining a stable line of communication with their fanbase.
From the cluttered menus to the immediately attention-grabbing art style, Drawn to Death is the product of a studio who refused to make any concessions in actualizing their creative vision. It looks and plays like a game that was developed in one big spit-balling session, where no idea was too crazy. The result is something that might be a little too flamboyant and offbeat for players who just want to sit back and relax, but for those who aren’t taken aback by Drawn to Death’s attitude, the rewards are numerous.
Drawn to Death is slated to release sometime this year as a free-to-play game exclusively for PlayStation 4.
Alex Avard is a British freelancer currently living in Santa Rosa, California. You can follow him on Twitter @alexavard95
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