This Early Access game is not complete and may or may not change further. If you are not excited to play this game in its current state, then you should wait to see if the game progresses further in development.
Today, more than ever before, innovation in-game development is a must for indie developers. It’s easy for bigger companies like Bungie and Ubisoft to just put out the same games year after year because of the multiple decades they’ve spent building a loyal fan base. But when you’re a small, unknown studio with little to no credibility you almost have to do something no one has ever seen before in order to make it. Especially if you’re trying to be the next Minecraft or something at that caliber of success and popularity. It’s for that reason that we see a ton of really odd indie games, many of which are terrible, get released every year. They’re all trying to come up with a new mechanic or idea that will wow audiences enough for a bigger company like Microsoft to buy them out for an easy payday. Something else that’s important to note about innovation in development is that so many new technologies are constantly being released and improved on an almost if not daily basis. There are things that developers can do now that weren’t even imaginable just two or three gens ago. I personally respect a company that tries to bring something new to the table, but I’m no less critical of their games if they don’t deliver a good experience. It’s for that reason that while I was happy to try the currently in development Drawn Story by Vitaly Rekubratskiy, I have to be honest and say that it’s a piece of junk not worth even the slightest amount of your time in its current form.
Drawn Story is an art based adventure game where you can literally draw things into reality. I’d say whatever you want can be drawn but that’s a half-truth at best. Rather than wasting your time and delaying the gameplay to after the graphics in my traditional style, let’s just get to the main reason you should pass on this game . . . the drawing mechanic. The gameplay outside of drawing is quite simple. You can walk left or right, climb up or down things, pick up items, use items, and drop items. That’s basically the entire game outside of drawing. You play as a character that must work his way through the adventure by solving short puzzle based challenges. Sometimes this is getting past an obstacle such as water and other times this is fighting enemies. I’m not sure about all the different types of challenges available in the game because I gave up on the whole thing before clearing the third puzzle.
While the core mechanics work just fine, the drawing system is a steaming pile of garbage that will frustrate you to no end for all the wrong reasons. From what I can tell, the game allows you to draw just about anything you would ever want. During my one hour of play I materialized swords, spears, shields, shovels, keys, hammers, saws, guitars, bombs, helicopters, and a bunch of other things. At any time in the game you can enter drawing mode by holding the Ctrl key. This will allow you to draw whatever shapes you want with a mouse in hopes of creating something useful. When you release the Ctrl key your item will drop to the ground and your character will say what it is. The problem is that very rarely are you able to get what you actually wanted to appear when you want it. The opening puzzle requires you to draw a boat and an oar. You also have the option of drawing a saw and an oar to achieve the same goal. That’s actually one of the best things about the game. You have multiple options based on your own interests in how to solve a problem. Or at least you kind of do because at the end of the day that first puzzle still requires you to create a floating object to ride on and something to paddle with even though you can create helicopters. Getting a boat was easy. Getting a saw and building a raft was even easier. Getting an oar was ridiculously hard. I probably spent 20 minutes just trying to pass the opening puzzle because it kept giving me swords and saws in place of the oar I wanted. You have all the control in the world when drawing your object. But you have no control in how the computer interprets your drawings. I experienced similar issues in both the second and third puzzle. I finally gave up on the game after spending an unacceptable amount of time trying to draw an object which may not even be available in the game even though it was a simple light source. That seemed like something practical to draw considering I could easily materialize and ride in a helicopter while inside an enclosed room. The drawing system, which is the most important aspect of the game, does not work properly and thus the game doesn’t function properly. While it would take away from what the game appears to be shooting for, there needs to be some sort of drawing guide, the ability to reuse drawings, or even the ability to choose between multiple item choices that your drawing can be interpreted as. In its current form, you will spend the bulk of the game piling up trash drawn objects that you have no use for just trying to get that one item that you already know you need. And items cannot be deleted so you will have to live with seeing all your failures until you’ve either progressed to the next puzzle or restarted the puzzle you’re on.
The basic stuff all worked fine. Quick loading and restarting of levels. You can continue at your current stage when reloading the game. Objects interact just fine. I didn’t love the fact that you automatically picked up nearby objects when you put one down, but it didn’t negatively affect the gameplay too much. You die in one hit and can kill just as easily. Death results in a quick auto restart of the current level. Vitaly Rekubratskiy got basically everything right except the gimmick the game is trying to sell itself with.
The graphics aren’t great but they work for the concept. Your drawings look exactly as you drew them which in some ways is kind of interesting but also a bit depressing because you get to see how bad of an artist you are. At the same time though it’s cool to be able to actually use your own creations in a game. The backgrounds, which are all static, are hand drawn pictures which are simple, but certainly work for this game. The characters are all stick figures. You play as a blue one and enemies are red ones. Death is pretty simple. You fall down slowly and the screen gets blurry. Drawing mode blurs the screen but your drawing looks clear in a layer above the blur. All dialog is done in comic style thought bubbles. It’s a basic MS Word font and it looks fine. The main menu is just a white screen with blue text and boxes, but it is just a beta so it’s not that important. Game looks good enough as is I guess.
I actually did enjoy the sound in Drawn Story. Or more specifically the music. The effects were ok. There were some, but because of the pace of the game they aren’t that pronounced or particularly memorable. There’s a little ambient noise at times for effect but I could take it or leave it with this one. The music on the other hand was excellent. Good quality, no breaks, and quite enjoyable. I also really liked that each track was credited at its start in-game. Just a simple text message for a few seconds that in no way hindered my experience.
The writing is hard to gage having only made it to the third puzzle. On one hand it’s very light-giving you only one to two sentences at a time. Sometimes you actually want a bit more considering that the character talks to himself as a way of giving clues to the player. But this is inconsistent. In the third puzzle, where I finally gave up, no clues were given. Up to that point clues were very informative and common enough to expect them. So I can’t say if the rest of the game has enough of them or not because I didn’t get that far, but the third puzzle didn’t really give me anything and because of the way that particular puzzle is built clues were very much needed. The writing style works for the simple page by page adventure feel the game is going for, but it’s not anything impressive.
Having not finished the game I can’t say how much replay value it actually has/will have since it is a beta at this point. But I can say that there is more than one way to complete puzzles which means there is at least some reason to possibly warrant a replay if you genuinely enjoy the gameplay. But again, the drawing mechanics are so bad that you won’t want to play it again let alone finish a first playthrough. The Steam Early Access price is currently set at $5 and I honestly can’t endorse paying even that much for what is currently a terribly broken game. Maybe in the future some changes will have been made to make the whole thing more manageable and less of a blatant waste of time and frustration, but for now it’s unquestionably a pass. Do not buy Drawn Story.
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