There have been multiple games that have come out that have tried to take a genre back to its roots. This is most noticeable in the horror genre as we’ve seen an influx of 2D horror games released recently. It appears that people are yearning for games similar to older titles that rely more on an impending sense of dread and haunting atmosphere instead of the larger action focus in a lot of recent horror games. Another genre that’s been gaining more mainstream attention is cyberpunk.
This is where Sense – 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story comes into play. Sense labels itself as a cyberpunk horror game that takes inspiration from older horror/cyberpunk titles such as Clocktower, Fatal Frame, and Ghost in the Shell. I actually learned about Sense when the Kickstarter was launched. I was really excited as it combines two things that I really enjoy. However, when I finally got my hands on it and finally started playing it…I was pretty disappointed with the final product. Let’s lift this curse and find out why I think this game is pretty horrifying.
Sense opens with Mei-Lin Mak riding a subway to meet a date at a bar in Neo Hong Kong. While waiting Mei-Lin ends up taking a drink that ends up hitting her too hard. Upon going to the bathroom she wanders into the ruins of the Chong Sing Apartments, a building that was condemned nearly 100 years ago. Mei-Lin must look for clues on what happened there while trying to survive the 14 ghosts that are trapped within. Along the way Mei-Lin uncovers items and journal entries that reveal more of what has happened while uncovering more about her family. Sense’s Clocktower inspiration is on full display as the player explores the cursed apartment building while solving puzzles, hiding from ghosts, and surviving. The gameplay follows a simple pattern:
Enter New Floor
Find Open Room
Meet New Ghost
Move to New Floor
Older horror titles and even point and click games used a model like this. However, Sense allows the player little to no freedom in how they actually actually solve the puzzles. Most of the puzzles are pretty simple so most can be solved with one clue. You might have solved the puzzle but you often still need to uncover the rest of the clues in order to attempt the puzzle. Sense also doesn’t allow you to pick up items until you absolutely need them. This causes the player to backtrack constantly, somewhat ruining the emerging sense of dread. There are multiple instances where you might find clues you need early on, but if you did not find the clue that went before it you cannot progress.
This is frustrating to say the least. At one point in the game, you meet the friendly spirit of a medium that has been attempting to exorcise the evil spirits within Chong Sing Apartments. The spirit requests Mei-Lin to assist him and provides her tools and a sword to cut their ties to this world. It’s around this time where Sense stopped being a horror experience for me.
If you were given other tools but not the sword it would been okay since you will still have a hard time fighting against some spirits. The inclusion of combat actually feels like an afterthought. Shortly after this, you start encountering smaller enemies and then bosses that are all dispatched in the same way. Throw rice or ash to stun, hit with the sword, and then repeat this three times. The fights are not hard, they’re not scary and there is no sense of dread; other than for plot purposes, the enemies seem pointless. The attacking animation is really awkward and the matching sound effect is low quality. Sense also has a couple of quick-time events. However, these happen only a couple of times and feel out of place. Mei-Lin has a stamina gauge that allows her to sprint and only depletes when spirits are nearby. It doesn’t deplete normally which makes me wonder why it’s even there in the first place.
There is voice acting in Sense but it’s pretty varying in quality. Mei-Lin really only says small one word lines for most of the games like “YOSH,” or “YABAI” which confused me with Mei-Lin being Chinese and there being actual Chinese voiced dialogue. This inconsistency drew me out of the experience. To Sense’s credit, it does have good sound design that creates a “slow, fearful creep of dread.” That sense of dread was quickly taken away due to the inclusion of some game-breaking bugs that I found on my playthrough. I encountered a bug about an hour into my playthrough that made me unable to click out of a puzzle.
This could have been a really big problem because the first true save point isn’t until an hour and a half into the game. Recently, Sense patched in an autosave function right before I started playing it so I got pretty lucky. Another bug that kept occurring is multiple in-game menus would stack on top of each other. It feels like Sense isn’t at a point where it should have been released, but bug tested a little longer. While I personally do not mind the art, a lot of the NPCs in the overworld are pretty generic cyberpunk designs. I can overlook this because you really only see them for around 15 minutes of a 7-hour playthrough.
I believe that the cyberpunk theming, while unique, actually hurts Sense and the game would have been better without being cyberpunk. What makes cyberpunk interesting is its world-building and characters. Being focused on the spirits is fine and a lot of them are pretty well written; however, the only time you interact with the world outside of Chong Sing Apartments is in the very beginning and right at the very end. It seems like the only thing that was cyberpunk in Sense is “Let’s give her augmentations, then make the character designs futuristic” which is pretty weak.
With inspirations like Ghost in the Shell, I was expecting much better. Sense had a chance to really stand out against the other indie horror games by taking inspirations from wonderful cyberpunk and horror titles. However, with a general lack of polish, weak overall world-building, and inconsistent gameplay elements, it misses the mark and that may cause Sense to fade into obscurity. You can find additional info about the game at its official website!
Sense – 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story Review
Sense - 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story
General lack of polish, weak overall world-building, and inconsistent gameplay elements. It misses the mark that may cause Sense - 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story to fade into obscurity.