Early in the last console wars there may have been some truth to the assertion that the PS3 had no games, but towards the end of its life cycle, the quality exclusives are still rolling out with no signs of stopping. Sorry, early next-gen adopters, but last gen is still quietly where it’s at for now.
Case and point: Tecmo-Koei’s Deception IV: Blood Ties; an obscure title from an obscure series that was out of commission for nearly a decade prior to the unheralded release of this latest addition a few months ago. The above artwork caught my eye at Gamestop and a quick googling showed me a game I’d never known that I always wanted to play.
I obsessed over playing this game for weeks, debating back and forth whether I wanted to quit my current games and take a chance to pay a premium price for something unknown. Thankfully, the first week of the PSN summer sale solved the dilemma for me and I graciously snapped it up. I wasn’t sorry.
Deception represents a really fantastic and unique concept for a game. The enemies come to get you as always, but you don’t fight back with firearms or swords or even punches and kicks. That shit’s played out. It’s time to bring some class and sophistication to the proceedings. Instead of engaging in combat like some unevolved ape, you rig rooms with deadly and humiliating traps to repulse the invaders. It’s like a demonic version of Home Alone. Come and get me, you big horses’ asses.
To make it even more unusual, in Blood Ties, you play as the villain. I’m sorry, did you want to save the world again? Be more trite, why don’t you? In this tale of darkness, you are Laegrinna, the heterochromatic daughter of the Devil and it’s your job to collect the Holy Verses that imprisoned him and bring him back to the world so that he can rule it. The Holy Verses are all possessed by the descendants of saints, but there is a magical pull that attracts all of the Verses to one another so once you obtain one from some poor sap of an inquisitor hunting witches in your domain, the rest of them will eventually come to you.
Laegrinna is accompanied by three daemons who are in charge of setting and operating the traps as you lay them out. Caelea is the calculator in charge of technical traps, Veruza is the firebrand who specializes in sadistic tortures, and the impish Lillia is all about the humiliation. Between the three of them, you are ready to throw the perfect party for your guests.
Once you get the hang of the various trap mechanics, this game is an absolute blast. The only limitations to the injustices you can perform on your victims is your own imagination. Want to make someone slip on a banana peel and then step on a rake a la Sideshow Bob as they get up to get a shaft to the face before falling onto a hotplate only to have the wall next to them shoot out as they dance in the fire and knock them onto a passing roller coaster to send them on a ride ending in a sudden stop that flings them face-first into a brick wall? Why wouldn’t you want to do that?
To add a much darker level of humor to this already psychotic menagerie of extreme puzzle-building, each character you encounter has a back story. A pair of knights may enter your domain together and reading up on them you’ll see that they are childhood friends and that the man has a secret unrequited love thing going for his female partner. So cute. Once you’ve sliced, diced, smashed, burned, and otherwise crushed his body and soul, with his armour broken and his chonies exposed for all the world to see his last breath may be expended calling out his love’s name. Don’t worry, buddy. She’ll be right behind you. It’s sick, but so’s my sense of humor. Blood Ties, you complete me.
And it gets better/worse. Sometimes innocent villagers find their way (or are forced) into your domain. Unlike the battle-hardened assassins and soldiers with their armour, blades, magic, flamethrowers, and whatnot tirelessly chasing you down, these poor saps are clearly terrified, cringing at every shadow. They represent no physical threat. If you get too close, maybe they’ll clumsily throw a rock at you out of fear or something. Should you slaughter them anyways? Of course you should. You’d be doing them a favor, what with your goal being Hell on Earth and all.
This sort of thing, the needless cruelty injected into the game’s narrative, is a really unique kind of dark interactive humor that couldn’t really be done in any other medium. The blatant attempts of the game to make you sympathize with the very people it tasks you with killing are almost like GLADOS’s constant insincere cajoling in Portal. Sure, you could listen to the game’s pitiful attempts to stop you from accomplishing your objective, but are you going to? Nope. Death to all humans.
That said, the game actually does give you the opportunity for mercy if you have trouble differentiating between reality and entertainment and will be emotionally wounded by the death of a fictional innocent bystander at your hand. Villagers and some weak-willed combatants will flee if given the chance, but most of us who would buy a game defined by excessively intricate torture methods are not going to give them the chance. All possible sacrifices must be made in the name of the dark lord!
Does this make Deception fans bad people for rejoicing in the vile desecration of human life in the name of evil? Yes. Yes it does. But to quote Frank Turner, “we’re definitely going to Hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell.” It’s a serious challenge to snuff out the lives of so many formidable opponents, but the glee of mapping and carrying out a successful series of completely batshit trap mechanisms with perfect timing to get exactly the desired outcome is one of the greatest rewards a gamer can receive. Discovering some of the infinite possibilities each level presents as you lead your opponents on a chase to their doom is as much fun as an antichrist can have with their clothes on.
Blood Ties is the kind of thing that you just can’t experience anywhere else, and it represents why video games are destined to take over as the dominant entertainment medium. It’s a twisted interactive black comedy that challenges you to use your own imagination and problem-solving abilities to do horrible things to people (many of whom don’t deserve it), making it outrageously fun and addicting all while daring you to feel bad about it. In its way, it’s glorious. How glorious? This glorious.
Yeah, it takes a special kind of gamer to appreciate that level of depravity, but you can only rock so many headshots and stabbings before you start wondering what else you can do to bring about the messy demise of virtual humanoids. So for everyone who’s ever stood over an opponent’s digital corpse crouching and uncrouching or feverishly emptied an extra clip into their head wishing you could inflict so much more suffering upon them, this may be your stop.
With a triple digit number of creative traps to unlock in addition to harmful environments, multiple hideouts (each with with several different rooms to play in), challenging requests from your daemons, a mission mode perfect for quickie sessions, multiple endings, fully customizable quest-generating, and even the ability to record and share clips of your favorite atrocities, you won’t be short on things to do. In fact, if I wasn’t currently sitting on a large backlog I’d play Blood Ties again and again.
Are you evil enough to enjoy this game? Probably. But the real question is if you are nasty enough to admit it. In its own unique way, Deception IV challenges its players to think about the consequences of all of the digital violence they’ve done in the name of a good time. Did all of those minions we’ve mowed down in countless games over the years have families being held hostage to coerce them into hurling themselves at you or were they just trying to make their parents proud of them or feed their children? Did they have hopes and dreams that were dashed when we dashed their brains out with our bullets and melee implements? What if the deception is that the real monsters….were us?!
Well, this is one game that is upfront about it. Yes, you are evil. Yes, you are here to slaughter the innocent and righteous along with some total tools. And yes, you’re going to do it in the most horrible ways you can conceive of. And maybe, just maybe you’re going to like it. A lot. If we gamers are just a bunch of heartless monsters reveling in mayhem while hiding behind the curtain of interactive entertainment, maybe it’s time to be honest with ourselves embrace our inner beast.