There are certain games out there that revel in the darker side of humanity; titles like Evil Genius, Plague Inc., Dungeon Keeper, Overlord, and now 101 Ways to Die. These are titles that explore those evil ‘what if’ scenarios you occasionally play-out in your head.
“What if I created a plague that wiped out 99% of the human race?”
“What if I built a grand dungeon full of traps and torture chambers to quell any hero who dares oppose me?”
“What if I wanted to create a comprehensive book on 101 different ways to kill someone?”
Indeed that last question is answered here, and of course it’s approached in a comical and somewhat light-hearted way. In 101 Ways to Die you are tasked with aiding Professor Ernst Splattunfuder in placing a set of devices, in a multitude of different chambers, with the intension of brutally maiming and killing the mindless lab creatures known as Splatts, so you can record 101 different ways to kill them in a book.
This delightfully deranged concept very much feels like playing the opposite of Lemmings, and it’s terrifically and gruesomely satisfying. Each level gives you a limited set of devices to place which must then achieve specific types of kills on the handful of Splatts that are released into it, preventing as many of them as possible from escaping unharmed. Often you’re tasked with achieving a single specific kill that will earn you one star, with bonus objectives earning you the remaining two in a familiar three star rating system. Completing the bonus objectives can prove particularly difficult, challenging you to kill all Splatts on a level and frequently asking you to perform a kill with a specific device or even combination of devices and environmental hazards. It can get tricky early on.
101 Ways to Die falls into that same pit that point ’n click titles so often do, with developer logic not translating to the player. Some levels are baffling, asking you to perform kills that seem impossible or too dependent on luck. However, as you go about placing your maiming, burning, slicing, flinging and exploding devices, and watch the Splatts spawn from their fixed points and path-find their way to the exit, things do begin to reveal themselves.
There’s clearly thoughtful and clever design at work on each of the levels. The set of devices you’re given are more than enough to achieve all the objectives and earn you those three stars. What seems insurmountable at first can often be broken down with a little trial and error and study of how devices work together, as well as the paths the Splatts take and the timing of their spawns. And as you learn more about how the physics and devices work with each passing level, you’re soon equipped enough to go back and annihilate those Splatts that avoided your traps the first time around.
However, the challenge soon ramps up further, with the introduction of modified Splatts that can, for example, run faster or take more damage. This complicates things and forces you to rethink your tactics. Timing becomes more important, as does choosing the right devices for the right Splatt. It turns from reverse Lemmings to a more sinister form of Mouse Trap, and the satisfaction grows alongside the challenge. However, by this point the cracks in the experience have also grown.
101 Ways to Die’s audio is woefully underdeveloped. Sound effects are few and far between, with only the odd splat and boom heard as Splatts meet their doom. No music accompanies the slaughter either. There was an opportunity here to add some extra character to the title. Grunts as the Splatts marched across the screen, some more screams and yelps, along with better sound effects from the devices and an upbeat tune, would have all done wonders for the overall presentation. We also encountered a handful of bugs, with devices disappearing randomly and even Splatts dying from no cause or even whilst they were spawning. Additionally, levels are unlocked based on the amount of stars you have and the cost proves a little steep, often presenting us with a locked level because we had missed a couple of stars. It was a disappointing pause on otherwise well-paced progress.
There’s no denying the dark, comical aesthetic and gruesome concept works; the satisfaction of setting up a perfect obstacle course of death is delightful. However, the poor audio presentation really hurt the atmosphere, and the occasional bug and star grinding also hurt the overall enjoyment. Still, if you’re looking for a physics puzzler with a dark twist, 101 Ways to Die will scratch that itch gloriously. It could certainly have been better but what’s here is still fun.
Thanks to Xbox and Vision Games for supporting TiX