Deranged doodles duke it out in Drawn to Death

2004’s The Notebook was an emotionally charged romantic drama featuring star turns from Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling. Now it’s 2015 and the notebook you’re dealing with here is a blue-lined-paper battleground upon which the demented doodles of a troubled high school youth called The Kid come to life and mercilessly kill each other. Well, they say write what you know.…

In this anarchic, free-for-all four-player scrapper, maps range from a coliseum containing a rotting ogre whose belly hosts battles, an abattoir where chopped-up carcasses revolve on hooks, and even the very bowels of Hell. And they’re nicely dynamic, too. Shooting an illustration of an eye provokes an alien beast to indiscriminately swipe its tentacle, while skybox scrawls provide off-kilter colour through song lyrics, schoolboy sass and splashes of blood. There are zombie basketball players, giant cyclopic octopuses and, at one point in our hands-on, we’re pretty sure we see a centaur George Washington. Okaaay.

Occasionally The Kid makes a literal fourth-wall-breaking appearance, thrusting his arm into the level to skewer someone with his pencil or dowsing them in health-replenishing energy drink. These are specials anyone can use if they obtain the right collectible. Dubbed ‘handjobs’, DTD's humour oozes typical David Jaffe endearing juvenility (the Twisted Metal developer is manning the project's helm). Weapons get the same treatment, with liquid nitrogen slingshots, live dragon flamethrowers you load with gasoline, and an assault rifle titled the ‘F*** You 47’.

We play as Diabla Tijuana, a devilish seductress with red horns and leather chaps. She can launch her razor-edged boomerang hat, whip her tail and conjure pentagrams for wall-jumps. There’s also a weapon ladder with unlockable revolvers, tridents and the blade of Satan himself. As for the three other characters, there’s Johnny Savage, a mohawked punk who wields a brutal axe guitar and can bring out the severed torso of a school sports champion to launch deadly dodgeballs; vampiric robot Cyborgula who can pop open his head and unleash a stream of remote-controlled missiles; and Alan, a dishevelled teddy with a blood-splattered chainsaw and maniacal grin. Four templates sounds limiting until you plumb their depths. In movement, attack and defence, they’re unique.

Indeed, there’s smart thinking beneath the scribbles. Spawning involves skydiving into the level, but you can speed it up if you’re willing to sacrifice some health. DTD also cleverly twists traditional deathmatch scoring with first-to-five rules (kills add points while death subtracts them). This motivates you to conserve lives and prevents brainless confrontations. Small levels do force encounters, though. There are few places to hide, especially considering you’re the only full-colour thing amongst mostly stark black and white, but a generous health bar affords time to adapt.

See, skill rather than surprise is the determining factor. Cyborgula can sprout wings and fly, but Johnny is able to counter this by ripping him out of the air. Alan can charge and throw his chainsaw for an instant kill, but he’s vulnerable while doing so. Weapons also have variable functions. You can buff Johnny’s dodgeball by bouncing it off a wall and catching it, while shotguns feature a reloading mini-game that can add deadly blades.

Is Drawn To Death’s reimagining of deathmatches purist or simply puerile? It’s probably a bit of both. There are bright ideas amongst the dark depictions, but it feels oddly old fashioned and, ironically given where paper comes from, a little wooden. With The Kid as his cipher, legendary PlayStation developer David Jaffe has the perfect justification for his deliciously lowbrow laughs.

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