Death and Taxes $12.99
In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except sugar and spice.
Few things in life are certain: death and bureaucratic nightmares. Placeholder Gameworks brings these two things to us in their narrative game, Death and Taxes. Following in the vein of something like Papers, Please, Death and Taxes has you playing as a Grim Reaper with jurisdiction over the city of Cosmopolis and the surrounding area. Despite your limited area of control, each life and death decision you make will have an impact on the city and world as a whole.
Summoned into being through dark magic, you and your Grim Reaper start your job administering death sentences at the same time. Your Boss, Fate, guides you through your early days on the job, answering questions you may have, and setting your mind at ease that this is just the natural cycle of things. Each day you sit down at your desk you’ll be given a note with your quota for the day. This includes things like how many people need to die, and what kind of people need to do. Maybe one day you need to kill a mere two people; while on the next you’ll need to kill six people, two of whom have a law background, and another two must be under the age of 35. You can ignore these discrete details, but it will reduce your pay for the day. But as long as you kill the right amount of people you’ll keep the brass mostly happy.
After each day (an indeterminate and flexible amount of time) you’ll have a performance review and little chat with Fate. A man coming to resent his place in middle management. Nevertheless, there is work to be done and he keeps you on task. Once you pass your probationary period, you’ll begin making money which you can use to unlock various widgets for your desk and outfits and cosmetics for your Grim Reaper. Some of these widgets are merely gags, like the fidget spinner, while others give you insight into how your actions are affecting the world, or help you make decisions.
Depending on your choices each day the story can develop in a few different ways. Catastrophe can strike from the unlikeliest of places, while salvation could lay in the hands of the least assuming individuals. You never have direct contact with any of the folks you’re assigning to life and death. You have a short biography and headshot that tells you their age, profession and a short biography about them. Maybe they’re criminal who has started to turn over a new leaf, or a scientist who has devoted their life to researching tuberculosis. Two things you’ll never get, however, are gender or ethnic background. While you can make assumptions based on the pictures of each person, the game instead uses gender-neutral language to help you focus on the personalities and actions of the people, rather than on preconceived notions. It doesn’t feel forced in any way either, with the language seeming completely natural. I didn’t notice this until the game points it out and gives you the opportunity to ask about it.
The system is all rather impersonal, much like bureaucracies tend to be. You’re making life-altering decisions about people based on a small sliver of information, without ever once having contact with the person. Even the way you receive news is impersonal; essentially a twitter feed with headlines detailing the results of your previous day’s work. I was apprehensive when I started playing that the choices would be too easy, and have a clear-cut people who should die, and people who should live. But I was pleasantly surprised that the game made this more difficult by having more complex people appear as time went on. And attempting to follow the day’s assignment can also lead to some tough decisions about who is worth keeping alive and killing, and maybe learning a bit about how you assign value to life yourself.
Death and Taxes is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or two discovering the various ways your actions and choices can impact the world and find an outcome. There are more characters than you can encounter in a single playthrough, and you’ll hardly if ever, get the same mix of people on your desk. I can’t say whether it’s worth pursuing every possible ending in the game, but there are enough outcomes and narrative shifts that you could play through the game numerous times before finding everything. The game even has a demo on Steam which lets you play through a limited version of the first seven days of the game. Unfortunately, it doesn’t carry over into the full release, so you’ll need to play that section if you end up enjoying it.
- Fully Voice Acted
- Excellent presentation
- multiple endings
- Good music
- Subsequent plays feel overly long
- Few characters in the story