Death is inevitable, as you know. So, who’s to say how, and when, a person dies? Well, in Death And Taxes, a narrative-centric title developed by Placeholder Gameworks, that responsibility is placed upon your bony shoulders. Created by a celestial being known only as “Fate”, your job as the Grim Reaper is to sign paperwork in order to decide who lives and dies.
It’s not a very gameplay-centric sort of title, so don’t expect any exciting minigames or the like here. It may put off some players who are craving for activity, but those who are after something that requires lateral thinking and decision-making with unclear outcomes will no doubt enjoy this the most. It should be noted that the predominantly black-and-white artwork is no doubt top-notch stuff, and the voice acting is a great listen. Same goes to both the gloomy and juxtaposingly peppy ditties you’ll hear on the radio and when you’re whizzing around in the lift.
The game is fully aware of the tedium of office work, and you’ll be subjected to it on a daily basis. You’ll be given a daily quota from Fate, who’ll specify on a letter the number of humans who must die or live, along with any special priorities or exceptions. The paperwork you’ll be given will share information like their age, profession and background.
On some days you may be simply told to kill at least 2 humans. On another, 4 may have to die, but anyone with a medical profession must live. Some oddly specific or rather vague instructions may be given on some days as a challenge. At one point, I was instructed to the last three people coming from the fax machine. Thing is, how do you figure that out when they all appear at once? On another occasion, I was robbed of my paperwork by Fate’s pet cat. As a result, you’ll be subjected to numerous head-scratching conundrums that help keep things fresh.
Thing is, the whole game is made up of these. As the Reaper, you’re instructed to maintain balance – order and chaos must be kept in check. Sparing seemingly-innocent people may result in unforeseen complications that may affect numerous factors in the current world. Then again, you don’t have to follow the rules to the fullest extent, and can bend things to your will one way or another, so there’s a fair bit of freedom to that.
Well, so it seems – you’ll be given daily performance reviews after filing your paperwork, whereby sticking to the rules will help you get paid for the day, perfect for buying cosmetics and knick-knacks for your desk, some of which have hidden effects that’ll help you in your decision-making. If you screw up or rebel, you’ll go back to your apartment empty-handed. Weekly performance reviews will remind you how you’re doing – if your performance is inadequate, or your actions cause some severe outcomes, then it’ll be game over by the end of the week. At least you can replay the game with all previously-purchased items.
After the first playthrough, you will notice some of the cracks. The dialogue exchanges between Fate and Conscience (the latter of which can only be heard while changing your look in a special mirror) can sometimes drag on and feel fairly inconsequential, despite some dark jokes and philosophical discussions from time to time. Having to go through it all again is a bit cumbersome. Plus, as mentioned before, there’s little in terms of gameplay, and while this was an intended design decision, blasting through a single setting – which will take about just under a few hours – can get tiresome quickly. It’s another one of those kinds of games that are much easier to appreciate in short bursts. Some of the apparel that you can buy seem like a waste of cash, much like the outfits as well.
Death And Taxes is a thoughtful, well-written and engaging experience that makes filing paperwork more complicated than before, albeit in a good way. Making moral decisions with noticeable effects on the world is by no means an easy task, and will pose some particularly cryptic challenges. It looks, sounds and reads very well, too, and there’s more than a few jokes that should make you smirk. Providing you don’t mind its minimalistic gameplay loop, that being box-ticking and picking out lines of dialogue, you’ll likely come to realize it’s a killer of a narrative-centric title.
Review code supplied by Pineapple Works.