Review: Death Coming

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Review copy provided by developer

As a species we have an understandable fascination with death, and in particular the idea that it might not be a simple cessation of biological function. Most cultures have their version of the Grim Reaper, a being embodying death itself who culls the living according to his own esoteric agenda. That agenda is yours to execute in Death Coming, engineering accident after accident to remove targeted individuals from the mortal world. And while it might not be the first or most polished game to tread that path, it’s a fantastic mix of clever and cute.

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You’re dead (sorry for your loss), but instead of drifting off to the great beyond you get recruited by a business-minded reaper to assist him in claiming souls. While you can’t do any reaping yourself, you’re free to set off Final Destination-style death traps to expunge the life of your targets. Kill enough people in one area and you get to move on to the next, but killing people also brings down the attentions of death-averse angels. And if you kill enough of the right people, you might just learn something new about your own demise.

The six levels of Death Coming are presented in lovely isometric pixel art, full of colorful signage, bustling shops, humming machinery, and adorable punching-bag-looking people. It’s these precious souls you need to kill, and it’s always by clicking on hazardous elements of the level like precarious flowerpots or loose boards or manhole covers to activate the trap. One click highlights a trap and gives a small description of it, while a second click sets it off. All it takes to end someone is a click at the right time, but traps range wildly in complexity. Dropping an A/C unit on someone is hardly a challenge, but in later levels you might be spilling oil in a particular spot, then waiting for it to rain to spread the oil, then triggering a spark to ignite it just as someone walks by at the right moment (or wrong moment for them).

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It’s important to note that very little of what happens in Death Coming is mundane. The second level, for example, takes place in a nuclear warhead factory run by a masked dictator. You’re supposed to kill all the employees but you can kill spies to help complete the warhead, or kill the dictator’s secret mistress by getting her to sleep with his assistant, or kill his groupies by letting him spy on them changing and then dropping a rack of crates on them as they flee. The situations you can engineer only get more insane from there, like turning a museum curator into a werewolf or helping a damsel kill mercenaries and free the Kong knock-off from a nearby ship. The best kills are weird and funny and completely unpredictable, making their discovery a highlight of the game.

The obscure nature of these situations also works against them, though. Many of the traps available can only be used once, and it won’t always be obvious what they do before you trigger them. Falling traps helpfully highlight their killzones for you but more random or multi-phase murders are left up to guesswork. In the museum I spent several minutes working out how one setpiece worked, only for it to kill no one because its range was so small. The hit detection can also be terribly finicky, as I’ve missed more than one simple manhole kill that looked to be dead-on. Later levels also introduce weather effects which can activate new traps, but also lock off access to earlier ones which makes learning how everything works that much more important.

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What this all means is that the real puzzle isn’t finding ways to kill people, it’s finding the specific sequence of ways to kill the most people. You have quotas to meet to reach the next level but even the lowest one is easy to miss if you flub a few key traps, meaning you’ll have to play the whole level over. Oh, and there’s also the angels who start patrolling as the body count rises and stop you if they see you fooling with something. It’s a three-strikes policy and while they’re not too hard to avoid, they can leave you waiting far longer than necessary for a timing-based trap. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this sort of trial-and-error gameplay but it’s not quite the free-form murder simulator I was hoping it would be. Completing the game should be simple enough but I don’t see myself ever going for perfects on any of the levels.

If you’re the kind of person that feels like mastering the art of reaping though, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy here. Levels are vast and contain dozens upon dozens of ways to end lives. It’ll take around three hours to simply beat all the levels, and then far longer to work out all the special kills and strategies for clearing each locale out. It’s also worth mentioning that the developers are still very active in addressing issues like flawed designs and rough translations since the game was mistakenly released as normal instead of Early Access, and they’re treating it as such. Honestly, despite the little frustrations I really enjoyed spending time in such a charming, zany, detailed world, depriving its inhabitants of life. Fans of off-beat puzzlers or adorable mayhem should definitely check it out.

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