Nothing in life is certain, except for death and taxes. In this narrative 2D puzzle game by Estonian indie developer Placeholder
Gameworks, you get to play as Grim Reaper, starting your thirty-day trainee program at a desk job in Human Department. Your task?
Fill in the quotas of demise and decide who gets to live or die. Your boss? No other than Fate itself (and occasionally his sinister cat
Lady Pawdington). Whether you’re going to wreak havoc by killing indiscriminately or try to bring prosperity to the world by saving
the ones making a world a better place is up to you. Still, you’d better follow Fate’s instructions if you want praise in your daily
You spend the workday reading profiles of people on Earth, sealing their fate by checking a box with your doom marker. Or you can
reorganize your desk, scroll through your phone to check out what events your previous decisions have caused, and fidget with your
fidget spinner until it catches fire, if you’re feeling particularly procrastinative. After work, you can visit a shop to buy new desk
decorations or snazzy new outfits with your hard-earned coin. During the weekends, there’s a possibility to let loose a little. Head down
to the office bar and mingle with the co-workers, a diverse bunch of creatures working in other departments of this odd, bureaucratic
Death and Taxes has beautiful, hand-painted-looking graphics, witty writing, and a group of talented voice actors for a fully voice-acted
NPC cast. The gameplay is simple and reminds me of visual novel games; all that there is to do is read files and have conversations
with NPCs. Still, it is oddly addicting. The events you can set in motion on Earth with your decisions are revealed bit by bit through
scrolling through your phone’s news feed and through new profile files that end up on your desk.
Depending on how long you ponder how to fill your daily quotas of death, and whether or not to listen to your boss’s requests that
seem more ridiculous each passing day, a single playthrough lasts around three hours. It’s easy to pick up and fun to revisit: the replay
value is high. The storyline is branching and has multiple different endings. For people who are into that stuff, there are many achievements to
unlock as well through different dialogue options taken and decisions made in each playthrough.
The absurd setting mixing monotonous office job and (literally) matters of life and death, dry gallows humor, and generally light
overall mood still give room to existential and philosophical questions about free will, the fragility of life, and the meaning of death.
The team of Placeholder Gameworks has created a piece of art that takes a sensitive theme without offending or preaching, letting a
player engage with these themes on a level they feel comfortable. So put on your suit and begin your trainee program in the Human
Department, Death Spawn.
Developer: Placeholder Gameworks.
Publisher: Placeholder Gameworks
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, macOS, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Release: February 20, 2020, September 10, 2020 (Nintendo Switch)
Genre: Puzzle, simulation
photos: screenshots from the game, taken by the author
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