Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story (PC) Review

By Athanasios 17.09.2020

Review for Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story  on PC

Benjamin Widdowson/Suzaku tried to blend a futuristic, Blade-Runner-meets-Ghost-in-the-Shell metropolis, with a little bit of Cantonese-flavoured paranormal activity, but back when Cubed3 got a chance to try what the developer had to offer, it was hard what to make of it, as the demo experienced was basically just a tiny sample that didn't provide enough to ponder on, which was quite possibly why its Kickstarter funding failed. Quite some time after this small bite, and after a second attempt at acquiring a budget, it's time to taste the complete product: the survival horror adventure, Sense - 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story.

There's no point in here for the existence of any cyberpunk elements. Being a fun of this particular brand of science fiction, this critic doesn't really complain, he just mentally scratches his head right now. The dirty, dystopian Neo Hong Kong looks cool, in all its unapologetically Heavy Metal/Anime-inspired hyper-sexiness, with Mei-Lin Mak, the main heroine, basically being an extra thicc mix of Cowboy Beebop's Faye Valentine, and Ghost in the Shell's Motoko Kusanagi - which is awesome… but still somewhat weird. It's as if the creator of Sense: A Cyberpunk Story just added all that in the intro just because he simply wanted to, without any particular, practical reason.

Screenshot for Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story  on PC

Maybe the purpose for the neon-lit shops, enhanced, ultra-busty NPCs, and sci-fi tech like holograms and such, was to create a strong contrast with the paranormal horror that will be experienced after this half hour-long, tutorial-esque introduction reaches its end. It occasionally achieves that by showing glimpses of the bright and colourful, outside world from inside the darkness of the Chong Sing Apartments. Unfortunately, whereas a masterpiece like Silent Hill would play with one's mind by going back and forth between the real(?) world and a hellish dimension, here, once Mei-Lin enters the haunted building where this takes place, most will surely forget about everything else.

Anyways… the adventure begins - and it's important to note that this mostly plays exactly like an adventure, despite the existence of some baddies that can hunt you down. Mei-Lin must explore this decrepit block of apartments, interact with the world to gather items, like, say, a key, and then start using those items in specific spots, like, for instance, a door. This example wasn't used unintentionally. Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is, for the most part, a very simple deal. You need a sharp item to cut something down? Look for a knife. Need to break an object? Look around for a crowbar. Some "fancier" puzzles do exist, that require reading found notes, but they will rarely give you a headache.

Screenshot for Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story  on PC

What will give players a headache, and a pretty painful one, is that this uses one of the worst systems in the genre: in order to be able to pick an item or use it, you first need to "trigger" the opportunity to do so, by finding a specific reason. This translates to Mei-Lin going back and forth between locations, with the fun factor decreasing with each second spend in backtracking and in trying to "enable" the use of a certain hotspot - and it's not that something will happen during all this coming and going. While some ghosts shamble around, for the most part, this will be a lonely experience that's more concerned with spooking you than putting you in danger.

Note that the atmosphere is definitely Sense's best aspect. The environments, while mundane, and lacking variety, have that "something is wrong here" look that's typical in horror. Apparitions appear in the corner of Mei-Lin's cybernetic eyes, and her PDA's camera can capture even more in the game's many dark corners. Generally, despite the lack of a decent budget, this is visually appealing, with the - pretty neat - 2.5D style working in unison with the shadows born from Mei-Lin's flashlight to bring this world to life. Extra points for the use of a Cantonese theme, that's definitely a fresh take on the genre, and which fits like a glove with the 'haunted house' vibe on offer.

Screenshot for Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story  on PC

…But good atmosphere can't replace good, well thought-out, polished gameplay. Take the first ghost encounter, for instance. A semi-solid corpse appears, his distorted joints making disgusting sounds, while he slowly closes in, moaning in a creepy zombie fashion. Being a game that mostly pays homage to Clock Tower than Resident Evil, you are basically defenceless. Lucky for Mei-Lin, she has a magic trinket that helps her dodge the monster, thus she runs past by it. What then? She now goes straight for the elevator she just activated, and pushes the button… and then pushes it again, and again, and again, and so on. Hmm, maybe she should stop, right? Not exactly.

The issue here is that this is a segment that's hard to "read." Should Mei-Lin keep on pressing the elevator button like a lunatic? Should she just wait? It's impossible to know, and that can happen with other mechanics as well. Take the trinket mentioned before. In order to use it, she must get close to an enemy, and press a button in a QTE fashion to evade the ghost's one-hit death touch, but this can occasionally fail, without really feeling as if it was your fault. This becomes even more annoying way later, where Mei-Lin gets the means to defend herself, with the "battles" feeling completely weightless and unreliable, leading to even more failure - and wait to see the bugs.

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After its release, this was immediately pulled out of the digital shelves, so that the developer could work on some issues. Most have indeed been fixed, although some - which can destroy your play-through - remain. The biggest change was a new quick save function, as well as more auto-save spots. While the addition is a welcome one, it didn't fix the reason these were needed - after all, the limited save items formula this uses usually goes hand in hand with horror. In reality, the reason why people complained about saves, was how easy failure was due to the aforementioned bugs and capricious game mechanics, as well as some instant death "traps," that relied in trial and error, instead of one's deduction skills.

Sadly, this is one more indie where more work went into its theme, premise, and looks, rather than how it plays. This just isn't fun, and while the story could be its saving grace, it's not that interesting or well-handled either. On one hand, the strong atmosphere is very immersive, and the fact that players aren't spoon-fed the reason why ghosts roam the place is great, as it forces them to get engrossed into it all, and pay attention to every small detail of this dark tale. On the other hand, the plot is a bit hard to follow. Some games, like the wonderful Dark Souls can make you scratch your head, and feel good while doing so. In here you'll mostly feel bored or irritated rather than intrigued.

Screenshot for Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story  on PC

Cubed3 Rating

4/10
Rated 4 out of 10

Subpar

Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story nails the Cantonese-flavoured, paranormal horror aspect, but fails as an adventure game. Apart from the bugs, untrustworthy mechanics that can erase an hour of progress just because something didn't work as intended, and the lack of a decently told story, this is mainly hard to recommend because its main gameplay loop revolves around running back and forth between the same handful of rooms, trying to "convince" an item to be picked up, by first finding a reason to… even though you've already done so.

Developer

Suzaku

Publisher

Suzaku

Genre

Adventure

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  4/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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