Deception IV: Blood Ties review (Vita)
We like to think we’re pretty clued up when it comes to PlayStation gaming. But when something like this falls onto our desks and we’re left wondering what happened to the first three Deception games, our confidence waivers. We’ve got a half-decent excuse this time around though – the franchise goes by about three different names and only one of the previous games came out in Europe (on PSone and on the eve of PS2), as well as PS2 spin-off Trapt which we’ve only just remembered even exists. By all accounts, we didn’t miss much, either. Middling reviews and myriad technical issues ended up holding the innovative games back and while Blood Ties still has its fair share of problems, it’s still an interesting enough concept in today’s markets of extremes – big-budget triple-A follow-the-man-‘em-ups and simple low-key indies – to warrant a look.
Deception is kind of hard to explain, which makes sense as it’s also kind of hard to play. The principle is simple enough – you, the devil’s daughter, find yourself trapped in a series of multi-part maps and invaded by waves of enemies, with your only form of defence the ability to lay traps in the environment. These come in two lots of three flavours, with hazards able to emerge from walls, floors or the ceiling and falling into one distinct category: humiliating, sadistic or elaborate. While many of the early maps can be cleared simply by spamming one quick and basic trap, doing so is the equivalent of playing through Devil May Cry only using the guns – inefficient, boring and entirely missing the point.
You see, the real thrill here comes from setting up and executing elaborate chain reactions that employ your own traps as well as those handily built into the environment. It’s all about torturing foes with spike-covered Rube Goldberg machines and handily, the game pauses while you switch to a grid-based overview of the room so you can take your time and make the most of every step of this harrowing process. Score bonuses can be accrued by using multiple traps of the same category in the same combo and while this can be hard to make use of in the early stages when only a handful of devices are unlocked, clever play will quickly see you earn enough cash to broaden your perverse horizons.
That early part of the game is by far the weakest – it’s not just the modest arsenal of traps that frustrates but also both the pathetic and limiting number that can be laid at once and the fact that an extended tutorial manages to walk you through specific combos (often twice) without really explaining how or why things work as they do. Experimentation is part of the fun to be fair, although it’s not until you can place a decent number of traps that this really comes to the fore. The same trial and error approach applies to the tougher armoured enemies, where you need to find and exploit each of the opponent’s weak points in one combo then send them flying to shatter their protection and leave them exposed to your full arsenal – armour tends to negate certain trap types, making clever use of all your tools crucial in undressing and destroying these tougher foes.
But even landing the crucial first hit can be tough, especially considering smarter foes will (knowingly or otherwise) tend to avoid many of your bladed gambits. Each must be activated manually, which you can’t do if you’re taking damage or, heaven forbid, manage to combo yourself – with limited defensive options aside from traps and virtually no protection offered by the heroine’s skimpy outfit, not every combo will play out fully and often, failing to accept that and retreat accordingly will get you killed. It’s a tough game (which is probably why there’s an auto-evade ability that halves your financial rewards in the menu, an ‘easy mode’ of sorts) and while setting up the same contraption for a tenth time after a bunch of deaths isn’t exactly fun, the sense of reward when you finally hit the full sequence is entirely worth the stress.
Deception IV is a gloriously silly celebration of the exhibition combo, those impractical yet impressive strings of attacks fighting experts throw together in combo videos paraphrased here with bonkers chain reactions of spikes, boulders, rakes, bombs, blades and banana peels. The emphasis on trial and error won’t be to everyone’s tastes and the camera can still be a pain in the ass (a series staple, as we understand). But in those wonderful moments where bothersome good guys are thrown through a perfectly planned and executed trap loop until they keel over, all of the game’s problems fade away and you’re left cackling maniacally at your Vita while everyone else on the bus glares at you like you’re some kind of sadistic lunatic. Which, to be fair, you kind of have to be to fully enjoy this devious gaming oddity.