Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Mercifully, poor old Albert is dead, because if he had been living now, he’d have to change that oft-told quotation to “Insanity is Earn to Die 2.”
Developed by Toffee Games and published by prodigious Flash game distributor Not Doppler, Earn to Die 2 starts off promisingly. The introductory cinematic, hand-drawn in gorgeous comic book style, gives us the premise: America is falling to a zombie apocalypse and our main character, a nameless protagonist, wants to get out. Thankfully, there’s a boat in Florida that will take human survivors to freedom. The only problem? You’re on the other side of the country, meaning you need to get down to the south-eastern coast by any means necessary. This means grabbing a vehicle, ploughing through zombies and upgrading your vehicle to make it down to the Sunshine State. Initially, this seems like a thrilling concept – committing hit and run on the undead seems simple enough, right?
It’s an easy-to-grasp concept that facilitates “pick up and play” sessions; it’s a 2D game made in the tradition of runner games where you must always keep moving to the right, navigating obstacles as you go. On paper, this concept works; but in practice, the game becomes a long, stodgy, and boring grind. Gameplay in Story mode is segregated into 10 levels, and each level can roughly be surmised as such: You drive a bit. Your car stops working. You buy upgrades. You get a little further. Your car stops working. You buy more upgrades. You get a little further. Your car stops working. Repeat this ad nauseam, chipping away at progress until, thankfully, it’s the end of the level. Then you must do it all over again nine more times to finish the main game. It is a fastidiously boring game and absolutely frustrating in how tedious it is.
Why exactly is Earn to Die 2 so boring? A title where you smash the undead with your car should, by all reckoning, be the epitome of an exciting game. For one, the drip-fed sense of progress is extremely dreary; never do you feel like you’re accomplishing something, merely doing a little better every time, which isn’t so much a game mechanic as it is a rule for life itself. This game should have been balls-to-the-wall, high-octane excitement, but because Earn to Die 2 runs at a snail’s pace, ironically, it’s about as exhilarating as doing your taxes.
There’s also a disturbing lack of challenge: the game is controlled either by WASD or the arrow keys, but all you really have to do is keep holding W/up, occasionally steer upwards (as mentioned, the game happens on a 2D plane, so instead of left/right, it’s up and down) and decide which of the two indistinguishable branching paths you’d rather take. There’s no strategy, nor any real reaction time or skill required; just keep going forward. This slowly becomes a game so dull and devoid of any meaning that you’ll be able to actually feel your soul leaving your body as you play it.
That’s not to say this is a bad game. It’s technically proficient, and can provide a modicum of thrills as zombie blood splatters everywhere as you careen through a heap of conveniently placed boxes. It functions in its limited capacity, but it just has no heart. It’s a gutless and uninspiring outing that could have been greatly improved it tried to have more fun with its concept; for instance, if it had used funny sound effects or possessed any measurable sense of humour. Disappointing, though, Earn to Die 2 is shockingly po-faced about its premise, presenting the ludicrous concept of sending zombies flying as humourously as possible. This only serves to make the whole exercise less entertaining.
Padding out the game past its story mode is a mission mode and a free drive option, but these largely, and frustratingly so, amount to more of the same. A pity, because if the gameplay had diversified itself (think something like Crazy Box from Crazy Taxi), Earn to Die 2 could have found the X-factor needed to transform from a sterile concept into something truly engaging, and as such, it has no real value to offer from playing it more than an hour, let alone to its conclusion and certainly not a second time.
Most players use video games to escape from the monotony of day-to-day life, but this game is catastrophically one-note, and one of the reasons why Earn to Die 2 feels so repetitive is its design. All the levels are near-identical with nauseating post-apocalyptic aesthetics that resemble vomit; ghastly shades of orange and purple punctuate the nuked sky. This is awful to look at, but it never changes; all ten levels look the same, except for tiny cosmetic changes to the background. Instead of driving through the ruined city, you’ll drive through the ruined industrial estate, each similar dilapidated environment more putrid than the last. A minor plus is the general art style, which is sharp and reminiscent of the cult cartoon series Archer. General assets such as those of your car and zombies actually look rather pretty, but it’s all blunted by the horrible backgrounds and the general lacklustre direction of the rest of the game.
How about a splitting migraine to go with that generous helping of nausea? Earn to Die 2’s action is “scored” with an annoying series of rock and roll riffs that sound like filler from the worst pop-punk album you’ve ever heard. Really, this game is offensive on several levels – your mind will go numb from the tedium, your stomach will thrash about in revulsion, and your ears will begin to mutiny. It’s almost as if Earn to Die 2 is a concerted effort to simultaneously offend all your senses at once. Speaking of, it’s lucky that video games, as a digital medium, don’t produce smell, because if they could, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind about what this game would stink of.
Perhaps the worst part of this whole package is that it doesn’t offer even the slightest whisper of value for money. Beginning life as a free Flash game on Miniclip, Earn to Die 2 evolved into a fully-fledged mobile game for iOS and Android before arriving on Steam as a port. It’s obvious from the simplified controls and the style of the menus that this has been tailored to suit mobile devices, meaning players on PC are going to get a raw deal by playing this, as it wasn’t made with computers in mind. That aside, apart from a few bits of extra content (the aforementioned missions), this port is just a slightly padded out version of the game available for free in your browser, meaning this is in no way, shape or form worth the £3.99/$4.99 asking price.
Asking for that kind of hard-earned money when a very similar free version is widely available nearly comes as an insult, but it would be wrong to say that, after every single tedious level navigated with unimaginative and poor design choices, this game is anything other than an insult.
Earn to Die 2 is by no means a horrible game, just an endlessly frustrating and joyless one. You’ll be extremely unlikely to even crack a smile while playing. All told, this game is such a strange anomaly; how can they suck all the life out of such a winning premise?!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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