Dead on Arrival.
In the 26th century, robots rule the world. Humans, in their massive ignorance, no longer pose a threat. However, it so happens that the occasional human still can become infected with what the robots call SMARTS. In order to eliminate the disease, the robots send the human into space on a rocket ship – to compete in a game show!
This is a pretty cool sounding plot, right? I’m always in on satirical art, and Death By Game Show is certainly a biting commentary on our culture. I live in an America where students no longer know what the Berlin Wall was or what it represented, where the Bay of Pigs sounds like a cute topic to research. I live in a world where cell phones mandate schedules and consume the majority of time. And while not as abhorred as the aforementioned, I live in a world where reading is frowned upon. Ray Bradbury once said:
“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
He’s certainly correct. I see a terrifying downward spiral of my culture, where a presidential election could be between two of the worst candidates I’ve seen in a long time. How did we get here, and where will we be 15, 30, or 100 years in the future? That said, the premise of Death By Game Show really hit a sweet spot for me, conceptually.
Unfortunately, the game itself falls completely short of its potential. In Death By Game Show, you play as U.H. Wutt, a human who, allegedly, has contracted the disease known as SMARTS. Because of this, Wutt is sentenced to – yep, you guessed it – death by game show. Before I discuss the gameplay and why this particularly title does not live up to its name, I’ll speak about the few bright aspects I noticed.
Between levels, the game show host – decked out in stereotypical host gear – offers some fairly witty dialogue that runs with the theme of the game. A few other entertaining pieces that you notice at the beginning of the game include the signs that blatantly tell you how to live. For example, a sign says something along the lines of “To the left is death.” If the player chooses to ignore that sign, he/she will end up dying. Inversely, following the signs to the rocket and pressing ‘w’ to enter clears the first level. This in itself is another commentary on trust and intelligence. Knowing the game is Death By Game Show, we might assume that choosing the opposite of the signs is the right choice; this is our stupidity, as the game would be more than happy to point out.
The last cool feature – though totally unrelated to the point of the game – is the level editor mode. This offers the player personal freedom to create challenges however he/she sees fit. If the creator in you has an itch and enjoys the idea of these challenges, then this may entertain you.
Where concept shines in Death By Game Show, execution exposes serious flaws. The gameplay of Death By Game Show is a mix between strategy and a type of tower defense. As U.H. Wutt, you are given two bars worth of units and buildings to place around a small battle area (basically a horizontal line). Units and buildings unlock and drop as you progress, or you are able to receive some bonuses by spinning a wheel. The key is to survive each level – known as challenges – for a set period of time. By using your SMARTS, resources, units, and buildings properly, your odds of survival increase. Well, they should, anyway. Unfortunately, Death By Game Show has some infuriating control issues. Perhaps it was my own mistakes, but I found myself dying at stupid rates in ways that I could not see. Sure, I would accidentally blow myself up, allowing myself to be sliced by an enemy unit, or retreat into the edge of the zone and get killed by the zone defenses. I understood and accepted all of those deaths. But other times, I randomly died, and I could not figure out why. Once, I died climbing into my rocket and decided I was done for a few hours.
The second issue in Death By Game Show is the true monotony of levels. There is no variation in scenery. All of the challenges take place in the same level setups with varying levels of difficulty and enemies – and the occasional change in scenery. But even with that change in scenery, you’re still essentially in the same place. In between, you’re always sent back to the game show hub, where the host either spoke or didn’t. That’s about the extent of Death By Game Show. For $14.99 on Steam, the value just isn’t there (unless you really like the challenges and wish to better your completions).
Death By Game Show is a wonderfully biting commentary on society and the grim implications of where our lives of ignorance may lead. Outside of that examination of our culture, Death By Game Show offers a shallow strategy/tower defense game with little variation that becomes very stale way too quickly. Even with the level editor, there is little value to be had here.