Preview: Drawn to Death brings notebook drawings to deadly life

The mind of David Jaffe must be an incredibly tumultuous, yet fascinating, place. From the criminally underrated Mickey Mania, to the critically acclaimed and lauded Twisted Metal series, Jaffe’s creativity knows no bounds. Most notably, he helped birth the iconic God of War series, a feat few designers can lay claim to matching.

For his latest idea, Jaffe has returned to the source of inspiration for most artists: the pages of a notebook. Drawn to Death presents a world in which a young boy’s sketchbook is the impetus for not only the ideas and creations found in its universe, but the very game and characters themselves. Everything, from the visuals to the gameplay, feels like something that wasn’t just ripped from the pages of a notebook, but rather takes place inside its bounds in real-time.

In a way, it’s reminiscent of a multiplayer action-packed version of Comix Zone on steroids. 

From The Minds of Madness

Since Drawn to Death is a game about bringing a twisted child’s mind to life through scribbles and doodles on a page, it’s only fitting that its aesthetic and tone reflect that. When you select your character, you’ll be able to pick from an assortment of colorful creatures and punny personalities. Each option is punctuated by the artist’s hand reaching in from the side to confirm your selection with their drawing pen.

As far as your choices, there’s the guitar-shredding punk rocker Johnny Savage, dual-gun wielding demon Diabla Tijuana, and even the part-vampire/part-cyborg Cyborgula – plus many more. Picking a character and mastering what makes them special is a huge part of the Drawn to Death puzzle, an element that taps into the popularized “hero shooter” sub-genre that’s bigger than ever in today’s gaming market.

However, this is far from an Overwatch reskin. It’s not a first-person shooter – rather it’s a third-person shooter/brawl-hybrid action game. And even though it’s focused on competitive multiplayer, it couldn’t be more different than Blizzard’s juggernaut. Every character in the game sports unique moves and attacks, as well as advantages and disadvantages, but there is also a wide assortment of weapons to choose from as well.

Breathing New Life

With a heavy focus on skill, Drawn to Death is geared towards allowing players to develop their own strategies and preferred methods of play, without anything emerging as the definitive “best” way of playing any character, level, or game mode.

At launch, everyone will be able to unlock the core cast of 6 playable characters and will have access to 7 unique levels, 26 weapons, and 6 game modes – plenty of content to keep players busy for some time. Game modes include your standard fare of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, as well as variants on scoring and level size. The most unique game mode is named Organ Donor – a slight twist on the “Kill Confirmed” game mode seen in recent Call of Duty titles. Instead of dropping dog tags upon death, characters drop beating hearts, which feels appropriate for a David Jaffe creation.

Once you’ve retrieved a heart from your fallen foe, or one that someone else has yet to pick up, you can drop it off at stationary base for a single point each. But if you drop it off at a moving base – which is more difficult, as it requires you to be light and nimble on your feet and aware of your surroundings – then you get double points. You’ve got to be careful though, because when you die you drop a portion of the hearts that you were carrying, which could make it easier for someone else to catch up or win the match. The first player to 20 total points wins!

Previously a free-to-play title, Drawn to Death is now making the shift to a traditional buy-to-play business model. During my preview, I played an Organ Donor match with Johnny Savage, thinking his mohawk would make him intimidating to my enemies. With a mixture of over-the-top weaponry and smooth moves, I was able to take 2nd in the game, getting edged out by the aforementioned shark ninja, Ninjaw.

The Living Page

Drawn to Death’s unique visual style and premise is a breath of fresh air, but not one without its caveats. That special sauce will only go so far once the game is out and players unlock all there is to see. Are the handful of game modes, levels, and characters enough to keep people coming back for more, especially now that it’s no longer free-to-play? Will the lack of single player content put off players, like it did with the likes of Evolve, Star Wars Battlefront, Titanfall, and other recent experiments?

I had fun in my limited preview setting, but that was only two total matches, not weeks of game time.

Drawn to Death is in development by The Bartlet Jones Supernatural Detective Agency, spearheaded by David Jaffe, and published by Sony. The release date and price are not finalized yet, but the game will be releasing exclusively on PlayStation 4.