It used to be the case that if a game was free, it ran through an internet browser and delivered about ten minutes worth of entertainment. Times have changed, however. Game developers have found ways of making profit from free games (mainly through the sale of downloadable content, both cosmetic and functional) and in turn, the overall quality of free games has increased immensely in the past decade. Games such as Hearthstone and League of Legends are examples of how free doesn’t have to mean that the developers cut corners. And yet, despite this promising momentum shown by the industry, clunky games like the online shooter Drawn to Death do a disservice to the free game “genre”.
All that being said, Drawn to Death isn’t actually a free game per se, instead being offered up to PSN Plus members during the month of its release, April 2017. This free-upon-release model is the same one that Rocket League followed in 2015 but unfortunately, Drawn to Death isn’t anywhere as fun or addicting as Rocket League. Instead, it’s a poorly executed attempt at a competitive shooter with boring gameplay, uninspired maps, and an all too often incohesive attempt at comedy.
The game’s name and art style are inspired by their setting within a bored high schooler’s notebook. The game exudes the immaturity and irreverence of the cliché pubescent male, with characters such as a ninja shark and a cyborg vampire making up part of the roster. The characters themselves are fine, even funny in how ludicrous they look, but the art style is messy and cheap-looking. Environments are a wash of scribbled ink and unattractive props. Some effects such as blood splatters look better than others, but basing an entire game’s art style off of a high-schooler’s drawings – images that are inherently messy and amateurish – may not have been the best foundation to build upon.
As for the attempt at humor in Drawn to Death, it fails in execution even more than the art style does. The game is really pushing an over-the-top, in-your-face mishmash of tropes and clichés: ninjas, U.S.A. patriotism, punk rockers, and more. It’s all done tongue-in-cheek, but the humor is so asinine that even children won’t find the numerous jokes about pooping funny. There are a few chuckles to be had here and there, but they always arise from absurd rather than clever writing. The game also attempts to insult the player over and over, a style of comedy that fails miserably in this context.
When it comes down to it though, art style and writing can often mean little in the shadow of incredibly fun gameplay. However, the two-versus-two and one-on-one gameplay in Drawn to Death is unfortunately not able to save the game from the chains of mediocrity. The game isn’t offensively bad. A variety of weapons are available for unlock and bullets fire where aimed. Characters have a few skills each, some involve shooting bigger projectiles or grant self-healing abilities, and there is depth in how certain character’s skills are affected by those of other character’s. Running, jumping, and travelling through the maps is somewhat enjoyable. But the issue lies in the basic gameplay itself. It’s boring and uninspired, with nothing setting itself apart from the impossibly long list of online shooters available to PlayStation 4 owners. There’s no interesting game modes and the small number of players in each match makes for slow paced action that feels two decades past its prime.
Every aspect of Drawn to Death feels mediocre. It isn’t terrible, but it’s not good either. With so many other options out there for competitive shooters, even a free give away of the game for PSN Plus members can’t save the title from its own callow humor and bromidic gameplay. Whether you get it for free or for a price, Drawn to Death offers little reason to keep on playing it.