[Disclosure: A review code from the publisher was provided for the contents of this article]
Deception IV: Blood Ties is a game about soaring successes and crushing failures; an adventure where your only weapons are your creativity and a wide array of devious traps and dangerous environments. If an enemy gets too close to our fragile protagonist, she’s basically done for. Plan carefully and get the drop on your enemies, however, and your reward will be a chain of gleeful carnage and horrendous destruction worthy of the most sinister of sneers.
To understand my take on Deception IV, we first have to go all the way back to about 1998, when the original PlayStation was cruising right along and a little game by the name of Kagero: Deception II first launched in the United States. This was back when I was allowed to get a game or two a year, tops, and only on special occasions like birthdays or Christmas.
Perusing the shelves in our local Walmart one birthday, my eyes fell on an intriguing piece of cover art for a game featuring a young woman who appeared to be firing spells at her enemies. Reading the back of the box for Kagero, I discovered that Deception was actually a strategy combat series where the player utilized traps to dispatch of their foes. I was intrigued and, rather than pick up the latest AAA title, I decided to take a risk on this game I had never heard of before.
The next several months I found myself utterly hooked, playing Kagero over and over again and becoming something of a trap-triggering master in the dingy halls of a forgotten castle. I fell in love with the game, and it remains one of my top PSX titles of all time.
When I found out that Tecmo Koei would be revitalizing the series for the PlayStation 3 and Vita, I was a bit giddy, if I’m being totally honest. Would the formula still hold strong? Would they be able to upgrade the Deception combat without adding in, say, guns to intrigue a new generation of gamers? Would it turn out that my fond memories of the series were best left in the past?
From the moment I got rolling in this latest sadistic romp, it became clear to me that Deception IV was going to deliver exactly what I was hoping for. Keep in mind that this is an extremely niche title and can be extremely repetitive if you don’t push yourself to be creative. It’s unfortunate that there isn’t a demo available, because it’s hard to know if something like this will appeal to you until you’ve tried it out for yourself. Like Deadly Premonition, you’re either going to love it or feel completely let down by its unique mix of puzzle solving and strategic gameplay.
The good news is that, even though this is the fourth (or technically fifth) game in the series, it is in no way tied to previous entries. As such, you can feel totally comfortable jumping right in at Blood Ties.
In Deception IV, you take on the role of Laegrinna, the daughter of the Devil, who must lure unsuspecting soldiers and mercenaries to a small handful of deadly locations in order to spell out their demise with carefully placed traps. Laegrinna cannot fight on her own and, other than a handful of special abilities like heal, roll and barrier, she finds herself completely defenseless against the intruding enemies.
Well, that’s not exactly true. At Laegrinna’s disposal are a ridiculous number of traps that can be attached to the wall, ceiling or ground. Each room is also home to a number of environmental hazards that can be used to cause some damage, opening up a wide array of options for the player to exploit.
Your job in Deception IV is to lure your enemies into these traps and then trigger them to allow for maximum damage. Using certain trap combinations will earn you additional bonuses, as will carefully timing aerial triggers or exploiting an enemy’s weakness in order to break their armor. Sure, you could trigger a bear trap and then fire an arrow into an enemy while they struggle to free themselves, but where’s the fun in that? Why not place the bear trap at the foot of some stairs. At the top of those stairs, you could drop a boulder that will now roll down and crush your foe. Still not enough? Then why not set up a springboard that will then fire your enemy into an electric chair sitting in the corner of the room and THEN finish them off with an arrow?
The above is only one of the countless possibilities for trap setting in the game, with moving obstacles and other clever contraptions on hand to flesh out your devilish deeds even further. Each trap is also categorized for Sadistic Torment, Elaborate Death and Humiliating Demise, and earning points for each of those types of contraptions will net you points to unlock even more traps within that category, including every manner of bladed, pointy and crushing apparatus your devious little heart could ever hope for.
The game is further fleshed out with online leaderboards for high scores and completion time, the ability to enjoy Free Play in order to test out your newest traps, the ability to share and download new missions with other players, as well as playback of your favorite trap combinations.
The story is pretty light, boiling down to: Your father, the Devil, needs you to collect 12 holy artifacts from the descendants of folks who locked him away in an eternal prison. Laegrinna and her demonic companions lure in said descendants, who typically bring a host of accomplices along for the ride. That means you’ll never be left wanting for cannon fodder and, yes, you can use these intruders as fodder for an actual cannon if you plan your traps properly.
The one major drawback is that Deception IV can get pretty difficult and is often extremely unforgiving. Enemies are often immune to certain types of traps and come at you in groups, meaning you’ll have to plan carefully to exploit their weaknesses and gain the upper hand. That being the case, it’s not hard to fall back on the same series of reliable traps, thus making the game feel a bit repetitive. And, as I said earlier, Laegrinna is extremely fragile and can be utterly trounced if you let the wrong enemy get too close, resulting in a full stage restart. There’s also the fact that luring enemies into traps and getting their timing down requires a lot of skill and, at times, a bit of luck, resulting in you needing to retreat to another room in hopes that your next snare will snag your opponents more smoothly.
With those frustrations, however, also come greater rewards. Similar to finally clearing an area in a difficult game like Dark Souls, perfectly executing a chain of traps in Deception IV can be utterly exhilarating, garnering cheers of triumph as you watch your enemy spiral through the air, completely helpless against the orchestra of destruction that is being enacted upon their flailing body.
Deception IV: Blood Ties is not for everyone, and I can certainly see why its particular brand of gameplay leaves some folks feeling underwhelmed or even bored. For me, though, it’s one of those games that simply clicks; it “gets me,” if that makes any sense. While I had my fair share of frustrating moments, those were easily overshadowed by the challenge of concocting and triggering nightmarish Rube Goldberg contraptions of torment, something that I have yet to grow weary of.
Vita note: My review copy of Deception IV came with a Vita version of the game as well. As is becoming more common with these types of games, I was able to play on the PS3, pick up my game on the Vita, and then carry it right back over to the PS3 with no trouble. The main difference between the two versions of the game is that the Vita offers touch-based trap triggering, which works nicely on the portable console. Otherwise, you’re playing the exact same game, though the Vita version is 10 bucks cheaper for those who are debating between the two.
Platforms:PS3, PS Vita
Developer: Tecmo Koei
Publisher: Tecmo Koei