Let me get the essence of this review out of the way: Playing “David.” is like being flashbanged. I’m going to explain what a flash bang is to the two of you who’ve never played any of the modern shooters out there because I’d rather talk about flash bangs than the mess that is David (with a period). A flash bang is a grenade that, instead of spraying shrapnel, releases a deafening sound and a flash that is seven times brighter than the sun. Modern shooters replicate this by having your screen go white and cutting the audio out into a high pitched whine. This moment evidently served as a great inspirational moment to David.’s one and only creator.
David. is an all-out assault on your ears, eyes, and patience. It’s a one trick pony, that one trick being blinding the player with white light that constantly floods the screen, oversaturating everything and forcing you to squint to read the self-important and thankfully sparse text. You can close your eyes, but you’ll still hear the game, and the soundtrack consists of five second constant loops of electronic notes (it’s painfully obvious when the loop starts over). Whenever you kill a boss, droning white noise plays and you somehow find yourself begging to go back to what David. considers music. It’s not worth suffering through to get to the storytelling. “There is evil”, the game’s tutorial informs us, “But! (the exclamation point is actually in the game) This is David.”. Cue the underwhelming hero reveal.
This world’s savior is nothing more than a hollow square. A placeholder for actual graphical representation. The gods gift him with an awkward slingshot shooting ability and he then becomes a box with a transparent circle around him. This isn’t minimalism – it’s laziness. The buttons on a controller are more interesting to look at. There’s a starry background, a white foreground, and basic geometrical shapes to do battle with. That combined with white light oversaturation is everything the game offers in the visual department. Regarding gameplay, you click and hold on the box and time slows down as little ovals get in position to be fired at an enemy, release the left mouse button and the ovals will shoot. This constant slowing down to line up your shot shatters pacing and makes a dull game even duller.
Everything is unrefined in David., from the graphics to the soundtrack to the feel of the game. Slingshotting ovals at your enemies is messy and getting your shot to go in the direction you want it to is just as much a matter of patience as it is skill (note: don’t release the button until the dancing ovals have stopped dancing). This slingshot mechanic could have felt right with a little tweaking, and it’s not like this is unprecedented territory. Think of flinging the birds in Angry Birds (you know you’ve played at least one of the many incarnations). Say what you will about that game series, sling shotting feels good there. Here, it just doesn’t. Neither does movement.
You move the box around with WASD. It feels wrong and you find yourself constantly wishing David would just. Go. Faster. Sometimes you can move in all directions and sometimes you need to build up momentum in order to scale out of reach platforms. Getting character movement just right in a game is absolutely essential and can be the catalyst that decides if your game is fun to play or not. Mario games are fun because Mario is fun. He’s extremely agile and quick without the controls feeling too loose. Legend of Zelda’s Link is fun because there’s gravitas to his movement. His animations are determined and he’s slower than Mario, but appropriately so. Moving the box around in David., however, is all wrong. He’s too slow, then too fast, and I found myself jamming in my D key while thinking to myself “Go faster you stupid box!”
After the tutorial (which concludes with a tunnel of text that challenges the player to read it as the screen becomes blindingly white for the ninetieth time) you get to a hub that serves as level selection. Here you can pick which boss you want to fight, and killing one advances the game. There’s a level that unlocks when you beat all the bosses on “Okay” and there’s a level that unlocks when you beat them all on “Very”. If you thought the names for difficulty levels were stupid wait until you hear the boss names. The first three are Greed, Anger, and Wolf. David. decides it wants to be more than a game about shapes shooting other shapes, so it names its bosses human emotions in a flaccid attempt to fool gamers that it’s something more than it is. Then it decides that wolf is a cool sounding name so, yeah, let’s run with that. The fourth boss is named “anxt”. Angst, but spelled, you know, cool.
Some of these battles are a straight fight – shoot them before they can shoot or touch you, and others have mild complications. One starts by having you escape a maze while dodging projectiles. Another has you painstakingly clear a hallway full of boxes (what else) before you can damage the boss. Yet another has you endure some basic platforming: dodge the red spinning things. I beat the game on “Okay” in under an hour. It was the longest less than an hour of my life.
David. was created by one person: Andrew Armstrong. On the Steam store page he writes “it’s almost tough to share. I hope it feels strangely personal.” Tough to share I wholeheartedly agree with, but with the other line I have an issue. How does a game about boxes shooting rainbow ovals at white ovals feel “strangely personal”? Because you have a laundry list of emotions for boss names, of which not all are even spelled correctly? The game only allows one save file. I discovered this when I wanted to go back and refresh myself on the dialogue delivered in the opening solely for the purpose of this review. “R U sure?” David. asked me, before destroying my one and only file. Yes. Yes I’m sure.
Also on the Steam page, the creator notes that fans convinced him to drop the game’s price from five bucks down to two. I’d argue that two dollars is still way, way too much for this. The storytelling is saccharine, the music is insanity inducing, the controls are sluggish, and the gameplay is just bad. Constantly slowing time down so that little ovals can get repositioned around your box and you have to fight the urge not to release before the little ovals are correctly positioned while jamming movement keys is the totality of David. and the game’s value is not anywhere near worthy of your hard earned two bucks.
Don’t play it.
Don’t pay for it.