Plenty of games have explored the concept of playing as the bad guy (or girl), but none take this idea to quite the level of novel absurdity as the peculiar Deception franchise. Launched in the mid ’90s and quickly earning a cult following, the series understands that the best villains are the ones who fight just out of reach, constantly cloaked in shadows, keeping their hands clean while still letting heads roll at a slow but steady pace. For those who prefer pell-mell melee combat in their action RPGs, Deception is likely to leave you wanting much more: varied gameplay, a wider range of environments, a deeper story and cast of characters. Deception IV: Blood Ties, the series’s fifth overall entry, isn’t too preoccupied with those things, which is a significant drawback for long-term sessions. Yet, as purely a pick-up-and-play title, especially when using the PS Vita’s mobility and touchscreen capabilities (the game is also available on PS3, with cross-saving enabled), Deception IV is a generally admissible way to kill an hour or so, placing players in the role of a Rube Goldberg machine-obsessed evildoer who could, with time, hold a candle to the underhanded death gods of the Final Destination films.
At its core a kind of excessively sadistic spin on MouseHunt, or the burglar invasion scenes from Home Alone, the game tells the tale of the Devil’s daughter, Laegrinna, in her attempt to release her father from a hallowed imprisonment. The completion of this task primarily involves running around a labyrinthine, many-floored castle while luring a variety of dopey, vanilla heroes (or Saints, as they’re called here) into various traps, neutralizing them and gradually weakening the seal that holds her demonic dad captive. Lending Laegrinna a hand on her maniacal mission is a trio of sinister ghouls—Caelea, Lilia, and Veruza—who once served her old man. The golden rule of three again applies to Deception IV’s stylistic arsenal, as traps are divided into an unholy trinity to suit your demented needs. Brutality (spikes, boulders, swinging axes), Magnificence (flames, zappers, cannons), and Humiliation (rakes, banana peels, bathtubs) each offer interesting ways to chain together sequences of gruesome and often hilarious murder combos, all while hardly breaking a sweat, though perpetually fleeing the relentless protagonists does grow tiresome. This isn’t a very challenging game, but, with the absence of immoderate button-mashing, trading any overt offense for wholly defensive strategies produces a rare brand of gaming exultation when sitting back and witnessing an unsuspecting pursuer stumble into a stray garden tool, fall into an iron maiden, and then spring-board in front of a speeding train. Rooms also contain their own specific environmental features, like a lava pit or an electric field, but these inherent hazards fall short of truly jazzing up destruction patterns enough to depart a preferred area of execution or manner of resistance, if only for a moment.
The Deception IV’s gist is extremely simple, almost achingly so, and its aesthetics tend to follow suit. While the anime-style cinematics and character models are of an adequate quality, the game’s locales, chiefly its interiors, are typically drab, nondescript dungeon chambers that work from a limited color palette of muddy browns and storm-cloud greys. Nevertheless, Deception IV isn’t about being pretty; it’s about the enticement of ensnarement, which it uses in its auxiliary options as well is its solo campaign. Free Battle mode and online scenarios with accompanying leaderboards give players a chance to show off their trapping proficiency to the masses, complete with replays of signature torment cycles that can be watched and shared forevermore. Despite its apparent flaws, the game clearly welcomes its niche labeling with open arms, swiftly constructing a pitfall for gamers on the prowl for something unfamiliar, albeit ponderously off-kilter.