Have you ever wanted to drop an electrified pain mask on someone’s head, causing them to stagger into an iron maiden, fall from that into a cannon that fires them into an electric sign, which lands them onto the ground where a giant circular saw that descends from the ceiling chops them up, causing them to then land on a springboard that catapults them onto a hotplate and while they’re busy hotfooting it, a massive hammer knocks them onto a carousel which spins them around until the horse they’re on launches them upward into a circular saw conveniently positioned on the carousel roof?
Well… now’s your chance.
In a nutshell, Deception 4 is Home Alone grown up, at least into its mid-teens. It’s a somewhat comedic, mostly tongue-in-cheek Japanese anime-inspired affair, mixed with bright yet gothic visuals and some very inventive and nasty looking trap designs. The game doesn’t go all-out, there’s no missing limbs or cut heads, though there is a decent amount of blood. A part of me thinks it’d be one hell of a spectacle if they’d tried to model what these traps would actually do to a person… another part of me thinks the end result would be unpalatable to any reasonable human being.
Deception 4, despite being released to zero fanfare and less public awareness, has a fairly long history. It’s actually the 5th in the series because game developers can’t count, and also because for some arcane reason they weren’t allowed to use the ‘Deception’ name for the 4th installation, which was instead titled ‘Trapt’ and was a late-era PS2 game. The original games were PS One titles, the first of which came out in 1996. In other words, this series has close on 20 years of history. And I owned the first one. God I feel old.
Like all its predecessors, Deception 4 is more of a strategy action game than anything else, with much of its action emerging after minutes of careful planning, luring, and positioning that lead into a lengthy orgy of rube-Goldberg style violence that would most likely have Jigsaw rubbing his chin thoughtfully before taking notes.
The premise of all the Deception games is the same. You play an attractive, half-clothed female character who is defenceless and running away from all kinds of armed and armoured goons that are being sent to kill you, usually because you are unfortunately empowered by or are a servant of an arch-demon that can and will destroy the world if released, and your continued survival makes said release just a matter of time.
And this is where the traps come in. Without any means of direct attack, you rely instead upon magically summoned traps. These come in a bewildering variety (the game sports over one hundred of them) and are split in two linked ways, type and position. The types are Sadistic, Humiliating, and Elaborate, the positions are wall, floor, and ceiling. You position these traps around the various rooms of the game’s expansive four stages, lure your enemies in, and the fun begins.
The trick to it is that you can only equip a certain number of traps, 12 at the maximum, but starting out with far fewer, and only put down a maximum of 8 traps in a chain. In addition, each trap has a charge up time after being set, and a cool-down after being used, so after laying them down you often need to keep the enemies busy and away from the killing ground, lest they chase you right over it and make it non-viable to circle round to where it all begins. Many traps cause the target to move one or more squares in a particular direction (usually controlled), and it’s this that leads to the insane trap combos. These pre-planning sessions, then, break down into long minutes spent figuring out a good combination of traps to move the enemies around, spliced with very high damage traps which usually just splat the victim into the ground, requiring some other trap to keep the combo rolling afterward.
It is immensely satisfying to look at a room and immediately start plotting out how to get a victim from one place to where you want them to end up, feeling your evil plan growing more and more insane as time goes on and you see another option for extending the mayhem.
Dynamism is the real appeal. Most games rely upon twitch reflexes and sharpened instincts, but Deception relies upon altering your thinking and strategizing based on developing situations. And situations do indeed tend to develop.
Though the game is not especially hard for the most part, there are some spanners thrown into the works in the latter stages of the campaign. Sometimes ranged enemies come at you in twos or even threes, and stubbornly refuse to go near your careful trap carnivals, preferring to adopt a shooting gallery pose and keep launching attacks at you until they hit or you start a trap chain right on the spot they’re standing in. Other times you face fast-moving, hard hitting assassins, some of whom can even teleport, just to make your life that slight touch more unbearable. These enemies force you to keep moving and think on the fly, and to figure out how to lure them in without getting killed.
In addition to that, most enemies have certain trap resistances, and some are outright immune to, say, traps that emerge from the floor, or fire-elemental types. These also cause problems, because often lynchpin traps that you’ll go to again and again to trigger a combo just won’t work. It’s another layer to the thinking process, another problem to solve.
Naturally there is more to it than just the raw mechanics. Your main character, a rather quiet lady named Laegrinna, is supported by three lesser daemons released by your ‘father’ (subtly called ‘The Devil’) to guide you. On each of the game’s chapters, these three daemons give you a series of missions. You can ignore them, but completing them gets you some of the in-game currency needed to unlock better traps, and in the process of completing these innocuous missions you slowly get drawn into the game’s complexities.
The missions vary from killing specific enemies in specific ways to using certain stage traps, comboing traps together, to achieving specific trap bonuses (earned by using traps in specific ways, for example hitting an enemy with a trap activated from 6 squares away earns a ‘long-range hit’ bonus) and so on.
By the back end of it I think every player will be in a position where they can naturally link their traps up to include the many stage traps which are littered around each room to add additional complexity, damage, and points (for greater currency and more traps!), which can only be a good thing. It’s a game that grows, and grows consistently until the end, unlike a lot of games that plateau quite quickly in terms of skills acquisition and from then on it’s just a matter of hanging on until the end.
That isn’t even really mentioning the glory that is the trapmobile, an excellent addition to the formula. These are especially elaborate mobile set-piece traps that, if they kill a victim, trigger a cutscene leading to an especially unpleasant finish via a button prompt. These things allow for the ultimate flourish to a crazy combo, and figuring out the most complex and violent lead up to a trapmobile kill is the crowning joy of this game and which, for me, never grows old.
Deception 4 comes with a story mode consisting of 12 chapters, each of which is rather long, usually consisting of three sub-stages interspersed with small story segments, and each of the sub-stages consists of a battle with 3-6 enemies. As such, the later chapters tend to have about 18 enemies in them. All in all it took me somewhere around 30 hours to cut through the story. The story itself is relayed via talking head static sprites that are colourful and fully voiced in Japanese with sub-titles, and involves some rather interesting characters. It’s nothing to write home about but it’s clean and crisp and does a nice job of setting the stage each time.
Once the story mode is complete, there are 100 missions you can tackle, each of which is a timed test of your trapping ingenuity. These vary from quite simple at the beginning to some of the most torturous and difficult demands you could ever ask for.
Once that is done with, there is what they call ‘Cross-quest’, which is a mixture of mission creation and mission download-and-play. The game can be said to have almost infinite playability, providing you enjoy the core gameplay, thanks to Cross-Quest. Here you can create your own missions at whatever difficulty entertains you, putting as many or few restrictions on yourself as you wish. Once you have a creation you’re pleased with you can upload it and inflict it on other people, while trying out their creations for yourself.
It’s a simple, effective use of new technology, no gimmicks, no over-reaching, just a nice addition to a base design principle that’s served the series well throughout its history.
The game is not a high-performer in the graphical department, though it’s perfectly successful at conveying everything that needs conveying. The camera almost never gets in the way, and the addition of a special ‘trap cam’ that allows you to focus the view on an enemy to better time the activation of your traps (and gives a perfect view of the carnage, of course) is another welcome addition.
The audio is solid, though the music is mostly quite forgettable. The sound effects are excellent, especially for the many traps and devices, often with individual rooms in a stage having their own unique ambience.
I like Deception 4 a great deal. It’s a genuinely unique gaming experience, released into a market that has a greatly decreasing number of unique experiences. It is far from perfect, and it is absolutely not for everyone. But those looking for a game that takes its foot off the pedal and wants you to think before you act might well find an undiscovered gem in this game of deadly devices and terrible traps.