Steam Next Fest: Death Trash is a gristly, gorgeous, and subtly funny RPG
Death Trash is a silly name, let’s get that out of the way. It’s a tiny bit Hoxton marketing agency for me, a bit Punk IPA. But do not let that put you off! Death Trash is a looker, in that very vogue, twisted pixel arty kind of way, but it’s more than its good looks, and another highlight from a very indie-friendly E3 – and Steam’s ongoing Next Fest.
In fact it’s actually a very nicely pitched RPG, a Fallout built within indie budget confines. Character creation is flexible – a mix of ages, races, body types and some neat outfits including a cape, love a good cape. You have a set of core abilities – hardiness, strength, finesse, occultism, cybertech, and empathy – governing what you’re capable of doing. Most of those are familiar enough, empathy gatekeeping certain dialogue options for instance, cybertech what types of gear you can equip, but occultism is obviously the most curious, letting you summon little living globs of flesh to fight by your side.
It’s hard to read too much into how those skills will open the game up, seeing as the demo, part of that Steam Next Fest going on now, is on the short side at around an hour and a half, and running from the very start of the game. But the potential is there. Already, from the off, certain avenues were closed off or at least narrower, thanks to how I built my character towards occultism – obviously – and ranged attacks, neglecting empathy (who needs that in the post-apocalypse?) and lockpicking (or that?). And already I love this, a little opportunity to replay, to circle back, have another conversation again.
The setup is, broadly, that someone made a load of robots to “look after” us humans, and that society’s subsequently been bundled underground and wrapped in cotton wool, anyone who’s deemed by the robo-protectors to be trouble – the sick, or neurodivergent, or criminal – gets booted out into the overworld to fend for themselves. Below ground things are stale and rectangular, grey, sheet metal; on the surface it’s a mess. It’s a scrappy, belching wasteland for the most part. It’s also covered in, er, “meat”. You have some kind of medical affliction and are, therefore, bound for the overworld only.
The meat is what lingers, as you might expect. Death Trash is about flesh, as far as I can tell, which is a fun thing to be about. It’s playful, in that way. Soon after your emergence you meet a giant flesh-squid that seems to have prolapsed out of a wall, that can only communicate with you and only then with the odd warbled word, “FRIEND” – and so you get one of your first quests, which is to find a friend for the flesh kraken. All around the ground are little nuggets of meat, some that you can tame, with a high enough animalism skill to beat the skill check (I did have this – animal taming is a useful apocalypse skill!), although once tamed all you can do with them is pop them into chunks of meat, to be eaten to restore health. The meat theme goes on: all the townfolk are obsessed with eating it, weirdly; it’s growing out of everything, this pink goo, and nobody knows why or is even that bothered by it at this point; there’s an old sentinel that’s part meat, and actually a bit bored of the robot life now. Some machinery needs a bit of your “bio-lubricant” to operate, which is shorthand for vomit.
Odd. Gross. Great. Death Trash is funny, and that’s its big thing, actually, over the pixel art which is gorgeous but rapidly becoming quite common now (no bad thing), and even the RPG side of things, which is still shaping up nicely. It has decent enough combat, but the demo’s too early in the game to really give you a sense for it. The impression I get is of a game that’s systems will open up wildly, between cybernetics, weapons, weird occult stuff and the smattering of environmental hazards that I’ve already been blown up by. But a bit of humour, a bit of oddness, a bit of meat on the bone. That’s what stuck for me. This game’s a treat, if you’ve got the stomach for it.