I really, really wanted to enjoy Drawn to Death. I was introduced to the trailer by a workmate about a month before it came out, and I’ve got to admit, I was genuinely excited. The art style, the implicit framing of the game as the sketches of a random student killing time in class, the entertaining characters – all of it had me fully hyped. I wanted to put this up front because I wanted to really communicate the disappointment in my heart when I started it up and after ten minutes had basically entirely run out of that positive anticipation and goodwill that the games pre-release had built up for me.

In the end, after a good couple of sessions with Drawn to Death, I was forced into a simple conclusion:

“Nice graphics, call me when you find a game to put in them.”

Long story short, Drawn to Death is a multiplayer arena shooter, with a selection of different characters each with their own unique abilities. This seems to be becoming the new genre de jour for developers who perhaps don’t feel like trying so hard. Understandable after the success of such games as Overwatch and Team Fortress 2, but as always with the easy genre du jour it’s pretty clear that those inspirations have been treated with a surface reading of their positives at best.

For example, and I’ll be honest, it’s baffling to me that this has not been carved into the skull of every developer of a multiplayer shooter, but in both TF2 and Overwatch, the characters are designed to be easily unique and distinguishable at any range. If a heavy comes around the corner in a game of TF2, there’s definitely not going to be any confusion as to what kind of enemy he is, what sort of attacks you can expect and what sort of tactics you should be able to respond with.

Whereas in Drawn to Death, all of the characters are roughly the same size and at a distance basically look identical thanks to the games hand-drawn scratchy style.  “But Stewart, you just said you were drawn to Drawn to Death because of its unique visual style.” That’s true dear reader, but art doesn’t take precedence over games design, particularly not in a multiplayer focused shooter such as this. So while the character design is fascinating, the fact that I can’t tell the difference between Cyborgula and Diablo Tiajuana at a distance and those two characters are drastically different in how you would expect to counter them pretty much guarantees that this is not going to become one of the luminaries of the scene this game is pitching to join.

Art doesn’t take precedence over games design

The fact is, this is the kind of game that reeks of a developer not feeling like they have to try that hard. They’ve got a clever gimmick, a decent marketing campaign, and Sony are throwing their weight hardcore behind it. No need to bring anything new to the table gameplay wise, just stick it out there and the money will roll in.

Drawn to Death is the first release from David Jaffe’s studio, but Jaffe built his reputation on titles like Twisted Metal and God of War. Perhaps he expected the accrued good will from those games to coast this one to success.

He’s wrong.

We live in a peak time for video games. More new titles come out each day than ever before, and unless you are the 47th entry in a franchise that’s basically guaranteed to sell, this phone it in bullshit is not going to work anymore.

If you have PS Plus and Drawn to Death is still free as you read this, then perhaps you should try it. Perhaps the torrent of bad reviews will motivate the devs to expand on the gameplay, maybe build something worth playing. If they have a relatively active playerbase, maybe they’ll be motivated to try and fix their mistakes.

But let’s be honest, that almost certainly won’t happen. Drawn to Death will probably remain what it is now: a bunch of beautiful window dressing, framing a view of a piece of grey drywall.