Let’s face it; we’re all sadists inside. It might be a part of you that’s buried very, very deep down, but occasionally we all enjoy seeing something or someone either make a fool of themselves or experience some kind of pain. In 101 Ways to Die, you get to indulge this part of yourself without the guilt as you march helpless ‘Splatts” to their doom in increasingly elaborate traps. The premise to the game is that you’re a lab assistant hired to help a crazy professor rebuild his life’s work: a book detailing the many ways for a creature to die.
However, the story elements here are very thin and, when all is said and done, what propels you forward is the satisfaction of completing every objective in each level, and not allowing any of the pesky Splatts to escape.
You begin each stage with a handful of traps to use, and a few objectives asking you to eliminate the Splatts in specific ways. When you’re ready, you release them into the level and they walk towards the exit or, more to the point, into your merciless death-traps. The idea sounds fun, but the execution is slightly flawed. With so little animated characters or personalities in the game, you’d hope and expect the Splatts to pick up the slack and have something about them to keep them memorable. Unfortunately, they happen to be largely humourless, silent cardboard cut-outs that you feel no particular joy from eliminating. The game depends heavily on its humour, and the bad news is that it’s just not funny.
This isn’t helped by the game’s environments, which all amount to underground test chambers. They’re dark, gloomy and colourless, and after playing for a prolonged amount of time you’ll simply want to turn it off and look at something more interesting. You’re also in trouble if you have a particular type of TV screen. If the game spills over the edges of your view and you can’t see what some of the menus are telling you, forget about being able to resize the game’s frame because the option simply doesn’t exist. You’ll have to put up with missing out on whatever the hell is over those edges, unless you want to put in the effort of adjusting your actual TV’s settings.
It should probably be stated that this isn’t the most fluid game to be mapped to an Xbox controller either. When you’re first learning how the game works, you’ll be fiddling and faffing with your buttons over the first few levels trying to remember what does what and what everything means. The only thing that stops this from being a major problem is that before you release the Splatts, you have as long as you want to place your traps so there’s no pressure on you remembering the controls. Once they’re out you rarely have to do much other than press the odd button.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The learning curve is fairly generous, and when you finally manage to get all the stars on a stage after trying for what seems like hours, you’ll feel a definite sense of achievement. This is largely down to the physics-based levels, which to their credit are quite varied and offer a range of sizes and shapes for the stages.
In the early parts of the game, when the Splatts are at their most zombie-like, the game can be quite enjoyable as you set up your traps to eviscerate the predictable targets in elaborate ways. However, as the game eventually starts to introduce more types of Splatt and the novelty of each trap type wears thin, the game begins to get very samey as you feel that you’re not really being given anything new to play with. This is made worse in longer sittings, and can quickly put you off from even wanting to continue playing as you start to feel like you’re not really progressing at all.
What you get here is a puzzle game with a difference, and that in itself is to be commended in an age of Portal and Minecraft clones. It’s just a shame that the execution isn’t much better, when the game backs itself into a corner with its own story premise and confines itself to boring environments and dull characters for an experience that sometimes feels as painful as some of the deaths onscreen.
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