I like to think that I’m a pretty good guy. I make room for cars to merge into my lane on freeway entrance ramps. I let the shopper with just one item go ahead of me in the checkout lane. Hell, I was once given $20 too much in extra change at Best Buy and I went back to the register to give it to the clerk.
If given the choice, this seems to carry over into my video gaming personas as well. Recently, while playing InFAMOUS Second Son, I found myself following the path of the hero and taking every effort to not kill innocent bystanders with my newfound powers. It’s quite challenging, because it would be far easier to finish the story by indiscriminately Comet Dropping every living thing in Seattle. That automatically makes me a nicer person than Man Of SteelSuperman.
Only after I become the hero do I dabble in evil. Bioshock, Fable II, Fallout 3… I always break bad the second time through.
I suppose that’s why I like the Dead Risingseries so much. The Groundhog Day-style play mechanic lets me relive the same zombie crisis over and over again until I can devise a way to save everyone. (On different playthroughs, that is. But I have better human-saving stats than Rick Grimes.)
Which ultimately brings me to my contradicting state with the Deception series. You take the roles of the most cruelly clever villains in the history of gaming, luring heroes, do-gooders and innocents into horrifying body-mangling traps of your own design. It’s like setting up a giant Mousetrap board with pointy/crushy/slicy/burny things, then killing people with it.
I love it.
The first title in the series, Tecmo’s Deception, was a shocking surprise when it came out, telling the story of a hero wrongfully accused of war crimes by a corrupt king and sentenced to death. At execution, the hero’s rage at injustice draws the attention of Satan. Not some generic evil force or demon or whatever, but the Satan. (Some Japanese game makers love to tinker up stories with western religions.) Of course, the hero takes Satan up on the offer of a chance at revenge and takes veryunheroic turn.
The story and gameplay reveals itself to be so overly mean that it becomes cartoonishly funny. In one mission, two villagers approach the foreboding castle and discuss their plan:
“The king says that if we kill the lord of this manor, we’ll get a huge reward,” says the man in the overalls to his wife.
“We could pay for our daughter’s life-saving operation,” the woman replies. (If memory serves, I think she was armed with a rolling pin.)
Playing the villain, I lured these loving parents into a dastardly complicated plan that would make Wile E. Coyote weep at the majesty. Once they crossed the threshold, a giant steel foot stomped on them from the ceiling. Then the wall shot out, sending them flying across the room onto a massive saw blade. A springboard then launched them into an oil drum, which exploded, blasting them over to the foot of the stairs. Then a giant boulder rolled down the stairs to crush them. For good measure, I hit them with lightning and sent out a stone golem to finish the job. While this happened, there was no gore or dismemberment, but a lot of overacted screaming and sound effects straight from a Hammer horror film. With their dying gasps, the parents apologized to their daughter for failing her. So tragic.
But it didn’t end there.
The game cut to an scene of a low-polygon child pacing back and forth in front of her rectangle for a bed, “Mommy… Daddy… Why haven’t you come home? *cough* Don’t you love me anymore?”
At first I laughed. Then I felt reallyguilty. How could I be so awful? Then I laughed again.
As the sequels went on, the player characters became female and decidedly less evil, going so far as becoming “innocent pawns” of evil overlords and kidnappers. They also started wearing decidedly less clothing. Satan also went away, having been portrayed more absurdly than in that Elizabeth Hurley movie. But the wonderfully elaborate trapping gameplay kept evolving, becoming more and more fun with each title. Then in 2005, they stopped. Presumably to make eleventy-billion Ninja Gaidens and Dead Or Alives.
I could finally return to being the good person. Or so I thought.
Last week, 9 years since Trapt on the PS2, Deception IV: Blood Ties released for the PS3 and PlayStation Vita. There are more traps than ever, including rolling iron maidens, a body-flinging car wash and a banana peel. There are heroes and heroines with breakable armor, leaving them to run about the castle, trying to kill you in their underpants. Even Satan has returned after an 18 year hiatus from the series– this time you play his daughter, the half-devil Princess Laegrinna.
After all that time saving and protecting the citizens of Seattle, I now find myself in a kingdom again, getting all murdery and stuff with lava pits, runaway trains and cake launchers. But with the princess being only half devil, I suspect there may be a secret path to redemption.
Which I will probably take.