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Death Trash early access review: an uncaring lump of meat that you long to embrace

Sins of the flesh

I am not very good at Death Trash. With effort, I have improved. Death Trash is an isometric, punky, grim RPG where you start with nothing and combat is unforgiving. You, hitherto an inhabitant of an underground city guarded by robots, are chucked into the post-apocalyptic outside world for being contaminated. What you are contaminated by, it turns out, is flesh.

If that sounds weird and unsettling, then know that this is the overall tone for Death Trash. There are piles of flesh growing out of the ground; a character suggests that maybe we are living on a planet full of meat and it's just bursting out of the soft outer shell of dirt. And the meat is, jointly and sometimes individually, sentient. One of the first beings you meet is a giant Cthulhu-esque tentacle monster made of meat. It is actually quite friendly; in fact it is lonely, and your first quest is to try and find it a pal. Death Trash!

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Despite being so persistently fleshy, Death Trash does not offer a soft landing. There is a tutorial that teaches you how to dodge roll, fire your gun, and hit people with your hittin' stick. Also, you can vomit on demand. You're also given a stealth module (which you can turn on to go invisible) and later, once you venture onto the surface, you find a module that lets you electrocute enemies to briefly stun them, as well as knowledge on how to craft things. Death Trash teaches you how to fight back - but it doesn't exactly teach you how to survive.

This makes sense. A lot of Death Trash is a bit trial and error, a bit suck-it-and-see (a tactic which, incidentally, you should never apply to meat in real life). Sometimes you'll be told you need to find somewhere on the world map, and a little map blip will appear. Other times it won't, and you have to think, "Well, the place name has 'Tree' in it, so maybe I'll check out this big thing that looks like a tree on the map." Every new place you visit, if you ask around enough, someone will mention somewhere else to check out.

A close up of three enemies being exploded by a mine in Death Trash
Here is a close up of three enemies 'sploding on a mine at once.

This is cool, because when you start to master the world - when you've crafted enough health stims to feel marginally safe, or the first time you lead a group of enemies through the path of a mine - you feel like a survivor. Your information is hard won, but so, too, are you a hardy soul. Like an outdoorsman who can start a fire from scratch, or a Londoner who knows just where to stand on the tube platform so they're in front of the doors when the train stops. That feeling of mastery is excellent.

At the same time, I think the full version could benefit from more explicitly pointing out ways to, for example, heal some hit points in a pinch, or refresh the finite charges on your active cybernetic mod. It's not that a game should always have to do that, but Death Trash does throw you into some pretty unavoidable combat situations early on, and it's a punishing gateway to get through to access later enjoyment. It is laughably easy to die at the start. If you played the Death Trash demo beforehand then you'll know how to deal with it better, but on your first go you're probably going to make judicious use of the quicksave and quickload buttons. I nearly ragequit out of frustration because it took me more time than I, a 30-year-old with dinner to make, wanted to spend to find my own personal groove with the game. I spent most of my time playing on the lowest difficulty setting because I couldn't handle the stress.

The player character in Death Trash speaks to a meat vendor, a blue-haired individual swathed in black clothes, who is standing in front of huge lumps of meat on the ground shouting "Meat! You want to buy some meat?"
This person exudes such a powerful Alice0 aura that I can't believe it isn't based directly on her

My groove happens to be edged weapons, by the way - specifically fast edged weapons like swords, as opposed to a slow one like a cleaver, or slow blunts like hammers and clubs. You can also equip a gun, with options like rifles, sawn-off shotguns, or energy weapons. Finding new guns is very easy (in as much as a bunch of enemies have them) but ammo is scarce, and I loved how precious a resource bullets felt. Like Mad Max! Your proficiency with weapons is governed by skill points and attributes as you level up, with similar points for things like stealth, bartering, tech, empathy, and understanding animals. This latter lets you pick up the toothy little flesh slugs that peel off from larger heaps of meat, and throw them at enemies. What a delight, I thought, when I first found that out.

The player character in Death Trash standing in front of a blue neon bar sign that reads Puke Bar
Puke Bar

Enemies are a combination of mutants, some of whom explode on death or have electricity-powered dash attacks, and armed humans palling around with them (there are some robots, but they're often pretty chill unless riled). Taking on a whole group is unwise; sneak past if you can, or peel them off into smaller, more manageable chunks of one or two.

It's your approach to survival that is most RPG-like at this stage. Tactics for sidequests are implicitly choice-driven, rather than explicitly so: if you have the means and the knowhow, you can set the security level of an underground facility so that the robots there are always hostile, or always peaceful so you can lead the blind guy in the basement out with no problems. Or you could punch that same guy to death. You could do as you're told and keep your weapon holstered in the Puke Bar, or show 'em what you got and see what happens (inadvisable). If it doesn't work out, reload and try something else. For the main quests, though, it seems like you've got a bit less freedom. You always have to let the meat-monster eat the android head. You always have to go to see the witch.

There's a lot more weirdness to Death Trash than I can reasonably explain. You do, in fact, collect a lot of different kinds of trash to break down and use in the crafting menu. There's a whole separate bit for equipping memories (!). There's armour and other gear, too, and modifiers for weapons. It's a spicy meatball, served raw.

The world map of Death Trash. It has very few location markers, and is mostly yellow with patches of red
Sometimes as you cross the map you'll run into an enemy encounter. You can also just find new places by travelling close enough by them.

I don't really think that Death Trash should be easier, or easy to master, but at this stage a few more clues on how to master it wouldn't go amiss. As it is, though, it's still a world that I loved being in, and the iterative nature of learning to fail less might be exactly what you're after. And it's beautiful in the way that a human body is. The planet looks strange and jagged, every rock or tree a broken tooth of a thing. There are plants that will damage you if you get too close, the colour palette is like bruises at different stages of healing, and there's a gentle, pixely movement that makes everything feel alive in an unsettling way. Most of all, the tumorous, ruddy lumps that burst forth everywhere, like the land is inflamed. A case of planetary cellulitis.

Death Trash is a singular and unique vision. I don't know how to say, "If you like X or Y then you'll like this". Maybe Fallout (indeed, this game's genesis is in a jokey fanart tweet about making one's own Fallout). Maybe text games on Itch about teeth and skin. People worship the meat like a deity. They eat it raw. And you are, somehow, infected by it. You can talk to it. My biggest disappointment is that my quest to understand the flesh was cut short so quickly - it's maybe four or five-ish hours at the moment, about a quarter of the predicted full runtime, though the "main" questline hit its under construction roadblock after about 2 hours for me. Death Trash evidently has more secrets to wallow in, and it's worth wading in. It's both disgusting (in a good way) and absolutely hypnotic.

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