I think everyone and their dog has played Papers, Please, as it basically spawned a genre of games where games didn’t necessarily have to be all-action, but rather put people into a mundane activity and build a story around that. Since it came out, there have been plenty of games in the genre all finding increasingly more boring tasks to get people to complete. It definitely started fairly interestingly, but over the last few years developers are starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel it would seem. But, just as I was starting to worry, along comes Death and Taxes, a game with a very similar premise to Papers, Please, except instead of having to check people’s passports to allow them or deny them entry into a country, you are the Grim Reaper and your job is to sort those who live from those who die.
It sounds very similar to Papers, Please, but the gameplay in Death and Taxes is slightly different in that you get a short spiel about how the person lives and hidden away there are four different effects that killing them or sparing them will have. Each one will have different effects on the gameplay and the ending cutscene, so depending on who you mark for death, you can have an apocalyptic event occur which triggers a mass extinction event, or you can create a utopia. You’re given tasks by your boss, a chap called Fate who is more than slightly uninterested in his job and trying to move towards becoming a writer. At the start, a lot of his instructions give you pause for thought and having to consider really who you want to kill and who you should spare, but as the game plods along, you do have to deal with increasingly vague instructions which can be fun to interpret.
The people that filter through in Death and Taxes are all interesting to some degree. Some of them are obviously not great people – willingly breaking the law for their own financial gain, or poisoning the world for their own experiments. It felt good to mark them for death, especially when I could see little plus signs in my snow globe of the world. There were also people that were seemingly, completely normal. People that are just living their lives, trying to get by as best they can, improve where possible. Sometimes you’re forced to kill them though, just to maintain the balance of the world – you can’t let everyone live and you can’t kill everyone, after all!
Death and Taxes is a game that you’re supposed to want to play over and over. Actions have consequences and there are plenty of endings to see, right? Basically all the hallmarks of a game that has too little content in it. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but you can go through the main gameplay loop in under two hours, which seems extremely light, especially if you’re not an achievement hunter. I played it through a handful of times, and while some of the situations would change based on who I was killing and sparing, the conversations with people would overwhelmingly stay the same. It got to the point where I was wondering why I was playing it, because not enough of the game was changing per playthrough to hold my attention for long.
For the most part in Death and Taxes, I did enjoy a lot of what the game had to offer. Lovely graphics, decent enough soundtrack and being fully voice acted were definitely things that worked in its favour, however the latter was a double edged sword as well. Everyone had excellent quality recordings, but as with all indie games that are voice acted, some do try to ham it up a bit. I won’t mention which characters were guilty of it, some worked it pretty well into enhancing their character, but there were a couple that ultimately felt far too try-hardy and any time I had the opportunity to speak to them, I either avoided it entirely or skipped over it as quickly as possible.
Death and Taxes is a good game, but I do think it is more flawed than the average Steam reviewer is letting on. There are a few parts that do let the game down, even if they are relatively minor, but for £11 I’d rather get an experience that is fresh for five or so hours minimally than one that forces you to replay the game and deal with the same people repeatedly. I did enjoy reading up on all the people that were marked for life or death, but it just felt too shallow to me.