FEATURE: "Deception IV: Blood Ties" Review

The vicious trap-setting classic returns... but was it worth the wait?

I like to fight head-on in games. Stealth is cool and all, but I've always preferred standing toe-to-toe with video game enemies, and coming out on top in knock-down, drag-out brawls. However, a change of pace is always a good thing--it's nice to take a second and plan things out, before unleashing hell on unsuspecting foes. That's really the whole point behind the Deception franchise, a series of twisted, offbeat puzzlers where you're tasked with using preparation, timing, and an arsenal of lethal traps to dispose of your enemies.




It's actually really hard for me to easily describe the Deception series, but really it boils down to this: you're not very popular, and lots of people want to kill you. They're bigger, stronger, more numerous, and better-armed than you, so you lure them into your castle/base/whatever and punish them for being the jerks they are. Working on a grid layout, you set floor, wall, and ceiling traps, and take advantage of the different layouts and room-specific traps (from falling chandeliers to moving "trapmobiles," like a mechanized chariot), where you're graded on how Elaborate, Sadistic, and Humiliating your traps and trap combos are. Mostly working in real-time, you can stop the game to set up your traps or check enemy data and weaknesses, then lure enemies, dodge their attacks, and spring your traps in real-time.




Sure, there's a story--told in lengthy still-frame visual novel-style cutscenes--and it deals with the "daughter" of the Devil, Laegrinna (that's you) trying to find a set of artifacts because... I really don't know or care why. I watched the first couple cutscenes and enjoyed their mean-spirited humor, but I very quickly started skipping them to get right to the meat of the game. Depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, the campaign can take around 10-12 hours, but the Free Battle and Mission Modes allow almost infinite replayability as you try and master your trap-setting skills. Pinballing enemies between traps, learning the timing for mid-air attacks, and meeting the requests of Laegrinna's three Daemons--who I think have spent way too much time watching the Saw films--further increases the emphasis on mastery, as Deception IV offers very few gimmes.




There are four "hub" arenas, each with their own gruesome surprises. While Deception IV is a violent, bloody, and downright sadistic game sometimes, I have to say that I never found it all that shocking. The game carries itself with a real sense of humor, so it doesn't feel incongruous to have someone slip on a banana peel into an electric chair, then launched onto a bed of spikes before getting blown up. It's equal parts Saw, Final Destination, and the board game Mouse Trap, and the game rewards you for putting together increasingly convoluted Rube Goldberg machines, while throwing in the occasional rake to step on or working in stage-specific hazards to increase the amount of Ark (your score), which in turn gives you more Worl (money) so you can increase your trap arsenal even further.




While it's cool to have a fully-female cast of protagonists, Deception IV: Blood Ties is still kind of creepy and pandering--you spend all your time running around as a slender little girl in a backless dress and a near-nonexistent miniskirt (I can only explain that I'm not playing a hentai game so many times) and the admittedly great dialogue comes from three barely-dressed women. Well, speaking honestly, it's two barely-dressed women and a loli, but that's splitting hairs. Really, unlockable costumes couldn't come fast enough. Also, while the traps have a lot of variety, they're inconsistently finicky--it takes a lot of trial and error to get things just right, so some players may get irritated at having to play and replay some sections again and again. Also, visually the game's not much to look at, and you'll be dismembering the same handful of generic-looking character models over and over again.




Deception IV: Blood Ties is the kind of game I've really missed this generation--a little different from everything else out there, but built around learning a system and working to get better at the game. What story that's there is great, but the real star is the gameplay--inventive, smart, and just plain cruel, rewarding you for thinking like a bad guy. For a series that's been absent since 2005 (the last game was released in the US as Trapt, like the band), I was a little worried about getting Deception back. Thankfully, I was wrong--Deception IV: Blood Ties is faster and more modern than previous entries, but doesn't lose any of the series' sadistic, strategic charm.



+ Great puzzle gameplay that encourages quick, creative thinking and careful trap placement

+ Don't be fooled by its modestly-sized campaign--there's tons of extra gameplay content under the surface

+ Huge arsenal of traps combined with room layout and unique hazards make for a varied, hilarious playground of death

+/- Writing is sharp and funny, but the cutscenes can run a little long and get kind of repetitive

- Character designs are pretty pandering

- Traps can sometimes be infuriatingly trial-and-error

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