Remember when gamers would see the word ‘cyberpunk’ and gleefully smile with excitement? Yeah, that feels like a long time ago now, with the word seemingly more befitting of a hype job that doesn’t fully deliver upon expectations. Thankfully, I went into Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story with zero expectations, so there was no room for disappointment. It’s a good job too; whilst the game doesn’t do anything that’s overly bad, it didn’t do anything that felt particularly engrossing across its eight-hour playtime either.
Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story’s tale starts innocently enough, with protagonist Mei heading through the neon-lit city to go on a first date. Pretty sweet, right? Well, things take a sour turn when her cybernetic eye (this is a cyberpunk-style game, expect techy stuff like this) starts acting strange and she heads to the bathroom to compose herself. Something WEIRDER occurs when she then finds that she is no longer in the same nightclub she was meant to enjoy with her date, but is rather trapped in a grisly apartment block of sorts that’s full to the brim with gruesome sights and wandering ghosts. It’s up to Mei to vanquish them in order to survive the night, with plenty of means to meet a swift end ahead of her if she isn’t too careful.
It’s not the best way for a first date to turn out really, is it? (Though I’ll have to admit that some of mine have felt a whole lot worse… sans the blood and ghosts, of course.) It doesn’t stop the game from offering a pretty decent tale though and there’s enough intriguing lore behind the eerie happenings to keep players invested in it until the very end.
Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story’s gameplay revolves around exploring your surroundings, interacting with the environment in a variety of ways, and collecting the items required to progress. It’s like a point-and-click adventure in many ways, but in a simpler and more condensed form. It’s pretty old-school in the horror sense too, with most barriers that come your way being in the form of locked doors that require keys… we’ve seen that in the genre plenty of times in the past and it doesn’t change up the formula too much here. You’ll uncover a variety of journals as you progress through the game that unravel the mysteries of the ghosts that linger within the hallways, with clues in place that’ll help you send the wandering spirits to the afterlife as you move further up the apartment block. It’s an inoffensive gameplay loop really, even if it doesn’t offer anything that you wouldn’t have seen before. Just expect to do plenty of backtracking… *shudder*
There are ghosts that’ll pose a real threat to Mei that you’ll have to actively avoid in the game, with hiding places strewn across the environment for players to keep out of sight. If you get caught, you do get a chance to survive through a QTE – mess it up and you’ll just die. So yeah, the best idea is to hide from them and wait for the moment to sneak your way past. It adds a real sense of danger and urgency to your actions in the game, though the slow pace of most enemies can mean its easy enough to avoid them for the most part. Unless, of course, you find yourself in a room with few hiding places in, which seemed to happen quite regularly in my case.
Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story feels pretty by the numbers in its design for the most part, so it’ll be a straightforward experience for gamers to dive into. However, it does have some flaws that could hinder the gameplay a fair bit.
For one, you can’t always interact with certain objects you need until the game is ready to allow you to, meaning it’s easy to completely miss things in the environment that could be imperative to your progress. How many times have you played a point-and-click adventure, come to an item, and thought, “I’ll grab that, it might be important later”? Well, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story doesn’t play by the rules in that sense of design and it can make for some frustrating moments.
It can be a pretty unforgiving game too. Not just in a ‘these puzzles are hard’ kind of way (although they can be obtuse), but rather in a ‘there are plenty of ways to die and not enough save points’ kind of way. As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of gruesome ways to meet your maker in Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story and you’ll often encounter them through sheer bad luck, with a little bit of trial-and-error in place in the game as far as surviving its nasties are concerned. Losing a lot of progress trying to overcome these situations could get annoying, especially since the game isn’t always that exciting to play to begin with.
Luckily, there is a quick save function in place, allowing you to give yourself a safety net during these more testing moments. Sure, it’s not as good as a well implemented checkpoint system (and I found myself quick saving more often than I needed to ‘just in case’), but it does at least ease some of the frustrations that can be present throughout the game.
Besides those flaws, there’s not necessarily a lot that Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story does bad… it just doesn’t do too much that’s especially good, either. Whilst clearing the many puzzles is satisfying enough, there was never anything that felt all that clever or original in design. Running and hiding from ghosts can add tension, but there were also times where I felt the odds were stacked against me with few places to actually hide away from them in safety – even if they did trudge towards Mei at a slow pace. Sure, there is an element of combat introduced later in the game, but even that feels clunky and unsatisfying in design.
It doesn’t really sound like the recipe for a great game, does it? Well, I have to at least give it credit for crafting an eerie and grisly atmosphere, with Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story’s macabre environments and deadly encounters with its lingering ghosts certainly making for some ghastly moments in-game. There’s always something creepy to encounter and I’ll admit that there were plenty of occasions where it really caught me off-guard with its frights – add to that an impressive visual style and you’ll quickly find that it’s definitely up there as one of the more atmospheric 2D-style horror experiences.
Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is eerily atmospheric and tells an intriguing tale, but some frustrating gameplay mechanics do hold it back a fair bit. It felt like the game was almost working against the player at times, especially when you couldn’t get the items you required to progress until you ACTUALLY needed them… it just made for plenty of frustrating backtracking.
Add to that a lack of originality and encounters with enemies that could grow tiresome as the game progressed and you’ll quickly find there’s not a whole lot here for players to love. Sure, it deserves kudos for its many atmospheric frights and it never does anything that’s especially awful in its gameplay, but there are simply so many better horror games you could play instead of Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story.
Developer: Top Hat Studios
Publisher: eastasiasoft, Suzaku
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC