Capsule Review: Death and Taxes

A mysterious game of choice and consequence with multiple endings but a lot of interface friction.

A game of decisions and consequences. Similar to titles like Papers, Please and Animal Inspector, you’re given a series of profiles for which you must make a choice, but because you are playing as a grim reaper that choice is who lives and who dies. People have varying effects on the world - killing a conservationist may damage the world ecology, killing a diplomat may decrease world peace, and so on. Additionally, you generally have a quota number of deaths to allocate and other guidance such as killing or sparing people in certain age ranges or with certain professional backgrounds. Failing to follow these rules will result in docked pay and eventually getting fired and losing the game, and it’s up to you to decide how to balance these considerations.

And there are some interesting decisions to be made. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, there’s more going on than it first appears. The way you affect the world and how closely you follow the rules interact to trigger different subplots and lead to several different endings. The game seems intended to be replayed multiple times and it may take your entire first two-hour run just to understand all the parameters you’re dealing with.

Between making life-or-death choices, you also interact with your boss and creator, Fate, making dialog choices and receiving pay corresponding to how well you’ve followed his instructions. That pay can then be spent in a shop to buy different outfits or toys for your desk - some of which are purely cosmetic but some of which are vital for understanding the effects your choices are having or even directly effect the plot. Fortunately, purchases carry forward to replays so once you’ve got the important items you can use them right away on subsequent runs.

Unfortunately, there’s a bizarrely high amount of interface friction involved. The process of choosing who lives and dies is far more onerous than it needs to be, involving dragging the individual profiles around on your desk, clicking into each one to examine it, clicking your marker, clicking the “LIVE” or “DIE” box on the profile (or finding that the profile is positioned such that those boxes are off-screen, clicking the profile again to put it back down, repositioning it, and then clicking it again to pick it back up before you can finally click the desired box), and then clicking the profile one more time to put it back down. This becomes tedious when you have a large number of profiles to get through. After work, you must then ride a slow elevator to the top of the building to meet with Fate and to the bottom to visit the shop, past several pointless floors that you can never visit. Choices like this may provide some atmosphere but they also add a lot of wasted time, especially in a game designed to be replayed.

This compounds with the fact that ultimately, your choices must be applied indirectly. Your actual decision may be to see particular subplots and endings by getting the world into particular states and/or having a particular level of obedience, but your mechanism for doing this is marking profiles. This robs the decision of who lives and who dies of most of its drama, as it’s now a purely mathematical affair - but one where you have to work with limited information, as both profiles and instructions can be unclear. It’s entirely possible that you’ll think you’ve done the correct thing when you haven’t, which can torch a run and require you to start a new one to get the outcome you’re trying for.

If you like the idea of working within constraints to understand a slightly-fuzzy system and how to use it to your advantage with a story that brushes up against trolley-problem-style moral questions, you could certainly have a good time here. But once you understand the game’s systems, a lot of what makes the game compelling melts away and you still have to deal with interface friction and delayed indirect choices.

I Stopped Playing When: I completed a playthrough and got a bad ending but felt like I finally understood the game’s systems. I started a second playthrough in which I intended to make heavy use of items to steer the story where I wanted it to go, but when I saw how much friction was going to be involved in doing so I immediately stopped. I didn’t feel like spending another two hours in gameplay that was now purely mechanical but still slow and unwieldy just to see a different ending, especially given the story and characters had never particularly wowed me.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.