Title: Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story
Release Date: August 25, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: Top Hat Studios Inc
I commend small indie developers for the fantastic work that they do—putting together these unique gaming experiences. Whether it be altering an existing genre or doing something completely new, I’ve learned to give these games a chance. However, I feel like some of these experiences fall short from lack of quality assurance. It’s incredibly easy to become the master of your creation and forget that it still needs to be playable. This is where I’m at with Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story, a call back to classic survival horror adventures that seemed to cater so much to the developer’s needs that it left out the most important part: The player.
Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story begins by introducing Mei in a 2083 Hong Kong setting. While trying to meet someone in a bar, she finds herself thrust into a horrific experience and left to uncover a mystery that she was not at all prepared for. Mei, along with a few other characters, becomes the driving force for this adventure, but the opening makes it seem like her role is more coincidental than it is. This futuristic world relies heavily on robotic upgrades that could very well be the cause of this nightmare that Mei finds herself in.
The story itself features themes of Chinese folklore and traditions, but it really fails on actually explaining this to the player. Through the environmental puzzles and backgrounds, you’ll be able to piece together some of these themes. Still, it comes off as if an expert on the subject is merely dropping all this knowledge matter-of-factly instead of teaching the player anything about it. Throughout the game’s multiple endings, I felt like I was left out of something or missing some crucial information that would make this whole thing make sense.
As a survival horror, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story gets the basics down. You encounter an issue, and you have to use whatever you can to progress, easy, right? Well, sadly, the player is at the mercy of the developer once again, as you are limited to when and how you can collect items to progress. Some items require you to trigger other scenes to acquire them. It’s incredibly annoying as it means you will backtrack multiple times just to complete one event. Even if you know what you need, the game decides when you can collect the item. The organization of the items is also messy as the UI isn’t user friendly at all.
There are too many bugs that I encountered to list in this review, but the developer seems to be actively patching the most harmful ones. Still, I’m surprised that the game launched in this state. The developer clearly made this to meet their needs of survival horror with cryptic puzzles, limited save points, multiple endings, and big breasted women. However, that doesn’t help the average player who gets stuck in the first areas because of some lessons the developer wanted to teach them. There’s a significant lack of QA that went into this game, and I feel like a few playthroughs of an early version would have uncovered many of its issues before launch.
The further you get into the game will force you to learn how to deal with the tricks and randomness of the designs. You waste time interacting with objects over and over again in different patterns waiting to get the outcome you need, and you become used to the confusion surrounding the narrative. It becomes a battle of the player versus the game, and the game does not play fair at all. One time, I had to start a new game because a random ghost appeared in a room, and I couldn’t get out of it. However, after playing through again, the ghost didn’t even appear. The game loves to test your patience, and I ended up playing if only to prove that it couldn’t break me.
The visuals of Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story are actually really well made. The environments look great, and the character designs are over-the-top, but at least they’re consistent. I found some of the narrative engaging as it really knew how to set the tone, even if I didn’t always know what was going on. As of right now, the game is playable, but still needs updates. The multiple endings set up a foundation for this to be a series, but whether you can get that far to see the narrative play out is up to whether or not it will allow you to get past the first couple of hours.
Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story will cause several headaches after the many forehead palms players will endure through this cryptic adventure. The story will rarely make sense, and the haphazard nature of the puzzle design force many moments of aimless backtracking. This is a game that the developer seemed to make for themselves, and it shows in the design and layout. Still, there’s something here for a follow-up release, but I really hope that quality assurance is in the budget this time around.
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