When I picture the Grim Reaper’s job, I tend to think of it in personal, small-scale terms. After all, death is a pretty personal event. But really, it would make sense that in trying to balance the forces of the universe, you would need to get a little bureaucratic. In Death and Taxes, you’ll play as the newest Grim Reaper, created to maintain order by killing the right number (and kinds) of people each day. But what happens when you don’t agree with your assignment?
Gameplay & Story
Death and Taxes, developed and published by Placeholder Gameworks, is a narrative game that plays like “Papers, Please” and feels a bit like “Beholder” while being completely original. Each day, you’ll get to your desk and see your assignment - the conditions around who must live or die - as well as the humans whose fates are in your bony hands. The assignments will vary from “kill three humans” to “spare every second person”. From there you’ll use your Marker of Death to mark each person’s fate, and turn in your work for the day.
This simple process is the foundation of a engaging story that is entirely dependent on the choices you make through the game. It’s hard to discuss the story too much without entering spoiler territory (and you’ll want to experience it for yourself), but of all the games that claim to have impactful choices, Death and Taxes is one of the few where that’s absolutely true. You have unlimited time each day to read over each person’s profile and make your decisions, so you get to really feel the weight of your options. Or you can rush through without a care in the afterlife, it’s up to you! Each day also comes with a newsfeed that reflects the changes the mortal world is feeling from your choices, allowing you to further reflect on what you’ve been up to. The occasional meetings with the few other NPCs reflect these choices as well, giving you different perspectives that you can use to guide your hand or completely ignore.
With such a heavy topic, the game could easily become a real emotional beat down. After all, you’ve got the world in your hands. Instead, the constant dark humor found in every corner of the game, from the guy whose only quality is that he likes pineapple on pizza to your fidget spinner, keeps the mood light enough that I never felt too bogged down in what was happening, while not changing the impact of the story. You can also purchase a variety of new costumes and desk decor, which gave me something to focus on beyond if I thought a retired doctor was more deserving of life than someone who had just started their dream job as a baker.
Longevity & Impact
Because the game is short and goes at your own pace, this is the first game of this kind that I’ve finished and immediately replayed. I truly felt like the story end that I reached was a direct result of the choices that I made, which made me want to go through and make new choices all over again. The writing really helps clue you in as to what the consequences might be of someone living or dying, though your choices can often have surprising outcomes. These outcomes, in turn, can have knock-on effects felt throughout the game that even further compelled me to keep playing as I asked myself what might have been. The story and writing were impactful and thought-provoking, and I spent more time than I had expected thinking about the ways my choices impacted the world. The game’s lead developer has said that they wanted to make an emotional game that would help people deal with the heavy subject matter through humor, which I’d say they deliver on on all counts.
My original playthrough took in the neighborhood of three hours, as I spent time trying to get every costume and item for my desk, which was absolutely worth it. At my current playtime of 6.5 hours I’ve finished the game four times and have roughly half of the achievements, and I could definitely see myself coming back for more later. I truly loved this game, and feel like it manages to deliver an incredibly compelling series of narratives through a simple and fun premise. There’s a demo available on steam that gives a really great sense of what the game is like, so I’d heavily recommend giving it a download to see if it’s for you. Death and Taxes is currently available for PC (steam) and Switch.