David Jaffe returns with an obnoxious, sketchy shooter that packs a surprising - if not entirely pleasant - punch.
PS Plus isn't the globally-beloved darling of the PlayStation platform it once was. The PS3 triple-A heyday has passed, and the last 12 months have seen Sony scouring the development world, trying to unearth the next Rocket League with little success. Last month's Disc Jam showed promise but suffered from stilted movement and clunky controls. The long-forgotten Hardware Rivals didn't have the muscle or the heart to stand anywhere near Psyonix's all-conquering eSport. And now we're presented with the unique vibes of Drawn To Death, a garish, defiant shooter that is going to divide opinion quicker than its creator David Jaffe's tweets.
"Style" might not be the right word for Drawn to Death's notebook-scribble aesthetic, but this is very much a project defined by its look, its feel, and its attitude. It's a small third-person multiplayer arena shooter, where a maximum of four players do bloody battle inside the pages of a 90s high-schooler's jotter. The biro-scribbled aesthetic, which looked too migraine-inducing to stomach in preview trailers, is actually a surprising success - the consistency of the artwork and sheer commitment to the vision covers every little corner of this unusual game.
Drawn To Death is more than just a look, though. And this is where its audience is going to split. Just as the game exists in the notebook of a 90s teenager, so it also exists in his mind. Drawn To Death is wilfully obnoxious; a never-ending assault of toilet humour, foul language, insults, gore, violence and three-chord guitar riffs. The pace is frenetic before you step foot on the battlefield - even the tutorial takes glee in laying into you, explaining in about as many different ways as is lexically possible how much you 'suck'.
It's definitely not for everyone. An announcer calls out standard info during the matches, but also welcomes you to "HELL, YOU SONS OF BITCHES" when you land in the map, and at one point goes on a 90-second soliloquy about how close he is to shitting himself. Taken in isolation, these jokes are about as sophisticated as your average Sun column, but it's so relentless that it's almost admirable. Drawn To Death's humour misses more than it hits, sure, but when it throws so many gags, one-liners and so much filth at you every second of its existence, you can't help but laughing. Well I couldn't anyway. It's not for all tastes, I'm not sure it's for mine, but there's something to be said for a game this confident in its style.
And it suits the action, quite honestly. As an arena shooter with a small player count, Drawn To Death certainly carries the hallmarks of a Quake or an Unreal, but there are elements of fighting games in here too, and even a touch (a very small touch) of Overwatch in how its different characters play off one another. There's Johnny Savage, a punk with the single-worst cockney accent ever heard in media (unless he's supposed to be from New Zealand). Diabla is a female Mexican gunslinger who's also a devil for some reason. Bronco is a video game marine spoof who's in constant communication with a female CO in his head, and then there's Ninjaw... a half-naked Japanese lady who also happens to have the head of a shark. Like I said - it's all in the mind of a 90s teenager.
Each character has unique abilities. Savage can trap people in a dome (activated by shredding on his guitar), and if enemies can't escape, their heads explode. Ninjaw can grapple hook around the environment and fire sharks at her enemies. Bronco has a turret drone. It's still early days so the balancing between the characters may yet prove way off, but it feels fairly even at this stage - given that there are only six in total, and that matches are so small, it's not too mammoth a task for Jaffe and his team to stay on top of.
For the most part, in any case, these characters will be using the same weapons to deal out the ballpoint brutality. This is a shooter at heart, not a MOBA, although anyone raised on COD or Counter-Strike will likely baulk at the extreme Time To Kill and floaty double jumps. It takes upwards of five seconds to slay an enemy with a standard AK47-equivalent, and with dodge moves, giant jumps and a speedy sprint, it's easy enough for them to get away and grab a health pick-up. This makes battles very intense at times - think map-spanning chases as you desperately try to finish off a wounded combatant - and the proliferation of power-weapon pickups, plus the randomised spawning of 'buff coins' (Quake's Quad Damage) means any fight can be turned on its head.
Matches take place across just a few modes - standard Free For All and 2v2, plus a Kill Confirmed-alike called Organ Donor, where dead foes drop hearts that must be collected and deposited into highlighted drop points. Nothing revolutionary at all, but excellent map design and surprisingly punchy weapons make most bouts a riot.
Like all online shooters, Drawn To Death can feel like a nightmare one minute and a masterwork the next, depending on whether you're losing or cleaning house. The truth is somewhere in between - for all its middle-finger thrusting horror, there's an enjoyable and well-designed shooter in here, with a sense of urgency and pace that makes it stand out, even against the big boys of online shooting.
It's not the smoothest or most populous offering, admittedly. Some of my matches were hit by lag - hopefully just the usual teething issues - and despite the game's status as a free download, there seems to be a worryingly low player count. I kept running into the same names, and 'ranked' mode (which doles out more XP and unlocks after completing five unranked games) seldom threw up more than one opponent. But the low player count also ensures the battles are lengthy and unpredictable - you're rarely sniped by an unseen pixel in the distance, an all-too-familiar experience for fans of the genre.
There's cleverness strewn throughout Drawn to Death, despite how insistent it is on appearing stupid. For example, if your team-mate disconnects during a 2v2, you're awarded a health and damage buff to even the odds, and the announcer will lambaste your former-friend's cowardice. The way you choose a spawn point, by hovering over the map and designating a drop zone, allows you to quickly turn the tide of a battle. Jaffe still has an eye for good multiplayer game design, and Drawn to Death channels the spirit of his previous work, in particular Twisted Metal.
There are games out there with stronger mechanics, better animation, tighter shooting and smoother online connectivity, but in doubling down on action, aesthetic and antagonism, Drawn To Death is pretty successful. This isn't going to challenge Rocket League for the title of best PS Plus game ever - in all honestly nothing probably will - but it's the strongest original offering on the service in some time. Just be warned - if you don't want to see an interactive hand-drawn leaking anus that's also a door, maybe give this one a miss.