Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story
Developer: Suzaku Games
Publisher: Top Hat Studios, EastAsiaSoft
Genre: Survival Horror, Side Scrolling, Adventure
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4, Xbox One, PS Vita
Age Rating: 18
Release Date: 7/01/2021
A code was provided for review purposes.
Controversy isn’t a new concept when it comes to video games. It’s been something that’s been around for a few years now. Games such as Grand Theft Auto, Mass Effect 3, Manhunt, and more recently Cyberpunk 2077. it’s fair to say that controversial video games are here to stay. The latest game to receive the “let’s create some controversy” is Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story.
The controversy surrounding Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is an odd one. It all started on Twitter when publisher – Top Hat Studios tweeted the below image. The studio claims that various “self-centred crowds” were calling for the game to be censored. Why? Well according to the claims Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is; explicitly pornographic, encourages violence, and somehow breaks the law. Granted the game’s protagonist has a *cough* unique design and there is a lot of sexualised content and some suggestive themes, but it’s a far sight tamer than what you would see in Grand Theft Auto.
Are these comments unfair? Are they a clever marketing ploy? Well come with me as I dive into the world of Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story to find out…
The story of Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is at best described as a ghost story. You play as Mei a young woman who has her sight enhanced by cybernetics. She’s also got an anime-style look and so she also sports quite a large cleavage. Mei’s journey begins with her travelling on a dilapidated Subway on her way to meet a date. Once at the meeting spot, Mei’s cybernetic eyes suffer a malfunction and this is when she sees visions of restless spirits. The games main narrative takes place in an apartment block where you have to guide Mei through the various rooms to help these spirits move on to the afterlife. However, it’s not that simple as the world is also filled with dangers and puzzles that stand in Mei’s way in completing this quest.
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is a side-scrolling game set in a 2.5D setting. We control Mei as she travels from left-to-right in search of various clues and objects to help her complete her journey. The game follows a semi-linear path. Whilst you’re free to explore the leash is always there to pull you back. Occasionally the game will throw a puzzle your way which more often than not will require you to backtrack to a previously searched room for a magically appearing item. It’s a bit of a pain and does slow the game down a lot.
Puzzles are pretty straight forward and involve finding ways to get into locked rooms and objects out of dark holes. One early puzzle tasks us to find the owner of a parked car, then be sent on a wild goose chase to find some offerings that the owner of the car had lost. It’s fairly simple, but due to the nature of the game, even though we can interact with the objects before receiving the quest – Mei even mentions that someone may be looking for them, but we cannot pick them up. Again, it’s a pain in the cybernetics that you have to backtrack. I would have preferred a Resident Evil style inventory instead. It would have kept up the tension, involved a little bit of backtracking, but more importantly, the game would stay at a constant speed.
Mei also has a handy PDA at hand which is used to keep track of your inventory and current tasks. Utilising this PDA is all done in real-time and makes its use that ever more frightening. The only downside I have to this is that on occasion the PDA will spoil some of the puzzle solutions. Granted this is a great tool to have if you’re well and truly stuck, but it’s nice to try to work it out first of all.
So, Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is as the title suggests, a horror game set within a glittering neon Cyberpunk setting. For the first part of the game, we’re in this Cyberpunk setting which is very reminiscent of Bladerunner mixed with Judge Dredd. Scantily clad “enhanced” characters with a lot of futuristic tech on display roam the streets. Crime also seems rampant within the city as Mei’s first interaction is when she stumbles upon a crime scene. We don’t get a lot of world-building but there are subtle hints to war and some anti-American propaganda. This Cyberpunk setting takes a back seat at Mei finds herself within a dilapidated and abandoned apartment building. This is where the horror comes to the forefront.
After encountering an apparent glitch within her cybernetic eyes, Mei is seemingly transported to an abandoned apartment block in the city’s underbelly. This block is a far cry from the darling neon lights of the city and even though it is displayed in 2.5D it looks pretty impressive. As you wander the halls and apartments, Mei encounters various apparitions.
These spirits from the game’s antagonists and they are a pretty gruesome sight. Each enemy is a contorted mess of broken bones and flesh. It’s quite a hair raising when Mei encounters one. These monstrosities can’t be beaten by conventional means so it’s always best to run. Mei’s only reprieve from joining these lost souls is to either make an offering to a nearby shrine or to utilise her blue bracelet to escape from their clutches.
In a game with so many negatives (more on that shortly) the horror stands out. At times I was hesitant to investigate any dark area. The whole environment of dark, foreboding corridors just screams out terror. When you do die, it’s a particularly peculiar thing. You get to see a short almost comic book style scene of Mei’s body contorting in ways a body shouldn’t bend. It’s a bit gruesome but plays right into the horror theme.
The game has a fairly standard control layout. You’re able to run, jump and on occasion attack. It’s pretty basic and to be fair works quite well. Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story isn’t an in-depth game and there’s no need for complex settings for its environment to work. Regretfully, the actions on the screen can be a bit hit and miss at times. During one of the opening scenes, I had to be on the spot for the contextualised actions to highlight that I could pick an object up. Also, when running Mei will occasionally stop, even though she has enough stamina spare. It all feels a little too rough around the edges. It’s a shame as it feels like the controller is just as much as an enemy than the enemies themselves.
Graphics & Audio
The environmental art is pretty decent to look at. Each setting – whether it’s the apartment block or the neon city are well designed and builds each area up in a nice way. On occasion, the game gives us a short video to progress the story. These are in a stop motion style and feel very reminiscent of a comic book cell. The art in these scenes is particularly detailed and do look quite impressive. However, there is an oversaturation of film grain which does take the shine off of it a bit.
The biggest issue I have is that the foreground feels much like an old 2000-2010 flash game. Characters feel tacked on to the screen and a little rough when they move. If you think of an early mobile game or even browser-based games then you’re on the right track. It’s disappointing as the environments are pretty well done.
The soundtrack is pretty basic too. Characters mainly speak via on screen text, on occasion Mai may let out a scream during a cut scene, but none of this translates into the game itself. Music-wise it’s soft neon style tones and generic horror style fast tempo.
Does Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story deserve the controversy surrounding its release? Well, the short answer is no. I did not see anything throughout my playthrough to suggest any of the things that Top Hat mention in their statement. To talk about the controversy in-depth would need a whole article in itself which I’ve waffled on too long as it is. There are moments where I thought that the over-sexualized characters and the innuendo were a little too much, but all in all, it’s no different to what you would see in Grand Theft Auto – if anything GTA is far worse.
Since this review was published, Top Hat Studios have gotten in contact with Rapid Reviews to explain that the death threats were in fact very real! This is appalling behaviour by a select few of the gaming community. No one deserves death threats due to expressing an artistic view. As I mentioned above – Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is exactly that, a ghost story and nothing else. So please in future play the game first and try not to have an opinion before hand!
This writer would also like to apologise to the good folk over at Top Hat Studios.
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story isn’t a bad game, it’s just not very good. Whilst the story is pretty good, and the setting of a horror story set within a Cyberpunk world is unique, it didn’t need it. The sci-fi element felt unnecessary as the game’s story is steeped in Eastern folklore. Controls can feel a little disjointed and the graphics are pretty sub-par. It’s not all bad though as the background images and cut scenes are fairly well designed. If you’re a fan of horror then give Sense a try, its story is arguably its strongest point. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else going for it.
Rapid Reviews Rating
You can purchase Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story via the Nintendo Switch eShop by clicking here.
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.