If you have never heard of the Deception series, don’t worry, you’re probably in the majority. Its last instalment, called Trapt, was released by Tecmo way back in 2006 for the PS2, before the company merged with KOEI.
With a history spanning almost eighteen years, Deception clearly has pedigree, not to mention a dedicated, albeit small, fan base. Still, this long-awaited sequel comes as a bit of a curve-ball, especially among the publisher’s recent spate of spring releases.
Put simply, Blood Ties is unlike anything I’ve ever played before. Sure, its third person set-up establishes a familiar bedrock but its premise and demanding gameplay creates an experience unlike any other.
The newest chapter in the Deception saga is centred around Laegrinna, a scantily-clad villainess born of an ancient demonic fragment. Alongside her three companions, the femme fatale foursome claim dominion over a castle and its surrounding precincts. Sensing that evil has returned to their realm, it isn’t long before wandering heroes come to investigate.
As in previous Deception games, Blood Ties’ core feature is its vast array of traps. Though the game appears to be a third person action title, there is no actual real-time combat. Instead players explore sections of the castle, each room containing its own unique stage pieces including furnaces, chariots, and electric chairs. When inside one of these areas a menu can be accessed, allowing you to deploy a series of wall, floor, and ceiling traps to incapacitate and kill your foes. This is done via a simple menu, splitting each room into a grid composed of coloured tiles.
Traps take a few seconds to install and can be switched out at will, though no duplicates are allowed. When a trap has been set it will be allocated a number and placed in a toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Using either the Vita’s touchscreen or directional pad, players can cycle through their arsenal, activating either individual traps or a sequence.
Each trap has its own unique animation along with damage stats and other effects. Where some can disorient enemies and even enrage them, others can push them a few grid spaces backward or root them in place for a few seconds.
In Blood Ties, the objective is always the same. By successfully targeting heroes with traps, you’ll begin to deplete their health until you’ve wiped out several waves. Though this can be done by creating rudimentary lay-outs and watching enemies run into the same devices, players are soon forced to think outside the box.
Certain NPCs will take less damage from specific trap types whereas others can be completely immune to them. Therefore, learning to experiment is vital; so too is the combo system. By constructing your own deadly gauntlet, you can unleash a series of traps in rapid succession, making way for some gnarly chain attacks. These advanced gameplay mechanics can often be complex and demanding though there is a clear incentive. Combos will generate Ark which is then, in turn, converted to currency used to expand your stockpile of traps. Abilities can also be picked up, granting Laegrinna extra perks such as a active dodge mechanic, throwing more variety into the mix.
Though unique and, in some ways, refreshing, Blood Ties has one major drawback: it focuses far too much on premeditation. Every trap needs to be set and timed accordingly, with players having to take into account a number of variables. If an enemy is resistant to one of the traps in your devious combo you’ll be sent back to the drawing board. Another annoyance is that enemies won’t merrily walk into traps; some will sprint or leap over them, forcing you to wait for that perfect moment.
It feels complimentary at first though the third person perspective will start to become a hindrance. Keeping an eye on traps while also avoiding enemy attacks is no easy feat, especially towards the latter chapters in the campaign. There are some lock-on camera options available but even then its still awkward and often frustrating.
Moving away from the negatives, Deception IV looks good on both PlayStation 3 and Vita. Character designs may be a little provocative (one certain gun-toting nun comes to mind) but the environments and traps help create a twisted fantasy theme, as does the soundtrack. Given that only a few characters are present on-screen at any one time, Blood Ties is solid when it comes to performance, rarely ever dipping in framerate.
Fans who have been left pining for a new Deception will no doubt be able to overlook many of the game’s shortcomings. After all, this tactical, passive approach to real-time action has been a staple in the quirky Tecmo series.
However, for new players, Blood Ties may come across as both demanding and frustrating due to its reliance on trial and error gameplay. It’s certainly not a bad game though Tecmo KOEI could have repackaged the series’ core formula in a different, more appealing way. Though we’ve seen an abundance of them during the past few years, Deception could make a really good tower defence game with its focus on trap combos.