The Deception franchise is a series I wish more people were aware of. Although the concept of a character that can't physically defend themselves isn't typically a popular go-to mechanic, this survival horror-like idea is turned on its head with the existence of deadly traps.
There's something soothing about setting up a ridiculously elaborate Goldbergian machine and unleashing it upon your foes that's insanely satisfying, and Deception IV is no exception. In fact, it may be the best and bloodiest entry yet.
Deception IV: Blood Ties (PS3 [reviewed], Vita)
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Tecmo Koei
Release: March 25, 2014
Price: $59.99 (PS3) / $39.99 (Vita)
Blood Ties has little in the way of setup and nuance. In short, you play the role of Laegrinna, the "daughter" of the devil, whose sole purpose is to collect 12 artifacts and resurrect her father to create hell on Earth. She's not alone in this endeavor, as three demonic goddesses are at her side, representing elaboration, sadism, and humiliation. As usual, Deception follows the occult theme to the letter, offering up demonic and holy imagery galore, with Tecmo Koei's signature style mixed in.
This time around however Tecmo has opted to not record an English voice track, which makes it less cheesy on the whole and much easier to watch. The Japanese audio throughout makes for a better experience, albeit a more niche one if anime openings aren't your thing. The story is straightforward with almost no twists or turns along the way, but the macabre presentation and the chuckle-inducing writing helps draw you in. Make no mistake though, the story is mostly a delivery system for the gameplay, which is where the real meat of the game lies.
That demonic trio I mentioned earlier? They're conveniently color-coded as blue, red, and yellow respectively, representing the three "schools" of traps you can use. Elaborate traps tend to set up other types, sadist traps do the bulk of your damage, and humiliation is basically a mix of the two. If you know what you're doing you can jump right in and skip the tutorial, but most people will want to re-acclimate -- especially since Deception games are few and far between.
For the uninitiated, what you're essentially doing is "rigging" various rooms with traps in a grid-like fashion from a giant arsenal of deadly tools ranging from anything to vases that drop from the sky to blind foes to simple arrow launchers to giant boulders that can roll down inclined surfaces. Note that this game doesn't take place all in real-time, as you'll pause the action momentarily to place said contraptions -- but once you put them down, the game will remember their locations within a level so you don't have to set them again.
Where Deception IV really shines is the sheer variety of traps on offer, as the humiliation tree in particular tends to go over-the-top with its stable of zany choices. It's really strange at first to set up a rake for someone to hit their face with, Looney Tunes-style, so that they can get impaled on a giant bed of bloody spikes, but you'll quickly get used to how much power Deception offers to play the way you want. You only start with the ability to setup a trio of traps in tandem, but eventually you'll unlock more, to the point where the possibilities are as endless as your imagination.
For instance, you can setup a combo to fling someone onto a specific block by way of a pendulum-swung guillotine, then spring a bear trap to lock them in place. You can then use a moving wall to "push" them into another spot, and drop a vase on their head. As they're wandering around aimlessly, you can pop another trap that hits a flimsy column, causing it to come down smashing on their head, at which point you'll finish them off with a giant Indiana Jones-style boulder for extra measure -- the latter of which can be directed by placing spring board traps that come from underneath the ground.
You'll have four themed worlds to play around in, all of which have their own environmental traps that help mix up your combo creation even more -- I'm talking anything from tiny flying blimps with missiles to arcane artifacts that shoot magic bullets. I wish there was at least one more arena included, but all four are packed to the gills with personality. Enemies won't just sit idly by though as you hack them to bits -- many of them have the ability to jump, sneak up behind you, dodge traps, or nullify certain types entirely with bulky armor.
Often times three enemies appear at a time, sometimes with abilities that complement each other, like fire and ice magic that can burn you for damage over time and freeze you, respectively. You can use the "Devil's Eye" mechanic to learn more about each enemy (including a miniature backstory), but for the most part you'll need to rely on your wits and master every type of trap. Abilities like dodging and dashing make Deception IV more action-oriented than in the past, and offer even more customization elements for Laegrinna. So long as you can deal with pausing the action occasionally to put traps down, you'll enjoy yourself.
I've often said that I'll take smooth gameplay over cutting-edge visuals any day, and Deception IV embodies that philosophy perfectly. Deception IV features a consistent framerate, and the animations are flawless. It's not a technical marvel by any means even on the PlayStation 3, but it works, and that's what's important.
After you're done with the roughly 10-hour campaign, there's so much you can do in Deception IV it's almost overwhelming. There's a free battle mode that lets you run wild with any enemies or areas you choose, allowing you to practice combos to your heart's content and check out any environmental traps you might have missed. There's also 100 challenge missions on offer, which range from "kill this enemy within this time limit" to "complete these specific trap requirements." Although some are less inspired than others, they go by rather quickly and will challenge even the most learned of Deception veterans.
Then you have the Quest Creation mode, which lets you pick your own areas, enemies, and objectives, then test them out and post them online. Likewise, you can download other creations and try them out. I should also mention that there are plenty of unlockables, including new traps and costumes -- all included in the base game without DLC. Well done, Tecmo Koei.
If the idea of setting up methodical, creative puzzles sounds like a good time, you'll love Deception IV. It's easily the most packed game in the series, and with its optional tutorials, it's even a great first stop for genre newcomers. After many years of lying dormant with the franchise Tecmo Koei has once again showed us that they still have it, and I for one wouldn't mind seeing more Deception games in my lifetime.