Dystopian futuristic settings of the cyberpunk subgenre allow many different story & gameplay mechanics to be explored. The subgenre has been rather popular as several AAA games releasing recently; but one Indie game known as Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is one that deserves a closer look.
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is a story focused 2.5D survival horror game. It is developed by Suzaku and published by Top Hat Studios & East Asia Soft; and released on the Nintendo Switch on January 7th, 2021. This review will contain no spoilers.
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story tells an incredibly unique & interesting story; quickly becoming the game’s primary highlight. It takes place in a cyberpunk-inspired Neo Hong Kong in the year 2083. The player assumes the role of Mei Lin Mak; a curious young woman with cybernetic eyes and an investigative personality.
After a brief introduction to the neon-lit world, Mei is suddenly thrown into the dark ruins of the mysterious ‘Chong Sing Apartments’. Within lurks dangerous ghost glitches, who are displayed & illuminated by the technology of the world.
In order to get out of the apartment complex alive, Mei searches for clues and finds answers about the 14 different souls haunting the complex. With some inventive writing and unexpected reveals; players can expect a much greater mystery to be unfolded before their eyes.
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is largely told through brief in game animations, character dialogue and comic-strip inspired cutscenes. The varied approaches keeps the story surprisingly tense; especially as the cutscenes and animation effects convey so much emotion with subtle transitions. The story is absolutely one of the game’s strongest points; and features a worthwhile ending to it all.
Goals & Controls
Unlike similar games who feature prominent combat or hide & seek elements; Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story’s gameplay focuses more on interaction of the world and characters. Many of the ideas work great both in paper and execution with few exceptions.
The controls are straightforward, limiting the player to only essential movement controls; as the player will only move in two direction. Interaction is also as simple as pressing “A” when near an object that can be used or analysed; with the option to scroll through the text and continue pressing “A” again.
Additionally there are other helpful tools, such as sprint & flashlight, which are essential to survival in the game. Knowing how to use the PDA and inventory is also important for staying organized while exploring the world. It’s an overall simple setup; but an important one to remember while traversing the game.
Interaction with NPCs plays an important role in Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story. Throughout here are some wonderful segments that encourage deep engagement; which continue to evolve into more ambitious territories as the plot furthers.
Of course this leads into the introduction of the ghost characters; who by all purposes are not Mei’s friend. However, there are a few exceptions that allow the interaction with some of the ghosts; providing a deeper understanding behind their story.
Many ghost encounters are deadly; forcing players to quickly run & hide in nearby closets in order to escape. These tense sequences are enthralling, terrifying and adrenaline pumping. These moments are incredibly satisfying and what many players will enjoy the most.
The majority of the game will have players exploring the environment and interacting with objects in order to progress. Frustratingly, this is also where the game design punishes players the most; especially in the early hours, as it fails to clearly communicate how interaction works.
The most glaring issue is that the game allows players to view items they’ll need; but won’t let the items be placed into the inventory until after the story reveals they need it. This forces an unacceptable amount of forced backtracking that often sucks the fun & creep factor out of the game.
Additionally, there are several times where an item will either need to be interacted with 3 separate times or won’t have an indicator for the player to see. This can lead the player to run around for circles forever looking for a clue beyond what they’ve already found.
These issues are almost enough to completely ruin an otherwise amazing experience. Without the addition of ghosts roaming outside of where they’re scripted to be; the game can become extremely boring & infuriating very early on.
The graphics and visuals of Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is primarily where the game stands out the most. The game is 2.5D; which is a mix of both 2D and 3D elements to create such a beautiful yet haunting visual style. Most characters are displayed in 2D, where as objects, rooms and items are projected in 3D.
This is a visual style that is very rarely seen, at least in my personal experience; and I found myself becoming obsessed with it. Even more unique is how lights and shadows are displayed between 2D & 3D objects; which creates a very unsettling & unnatural atmosphere.
The visual mix of a traditional Japanese art style & industrial cyberpunk elements truly makes for a gorgeous looking game. These two unlikely styles works surprisingly well together, making Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story stand out from other games like a diamond in the rough. Everything truly looks incredible & consistent throughout.
The game is visually very impressive; from is clear & detailed textures to its’ amazing lighting. The only current issue is a small glitch that makes Mei and a few other characters slightly blurry; however Suzaku has addressed this issue and will be coming out with a fix for it soon. Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story absolutely shines with it’s graphics & visuals.
Music & Audio
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story features the first credit for composer Andy ‘Andi’ Han; who brings a synthetic & disturbing soundtrack to the game. The music enhances the surrounding cyberpunk world with catchy synths & beats; with horrific themes when needed.
The large majority of the game only features diegetic sounds to enhance the experience. Where the game primarily may focus on visual and atmospheric storytelling; what really sells the freaky factor & scares is the sound design; which is largely brilliant. Most of the natural occurring diegetic sounds really bring this horrific cybernetic Hell come together.
The majority of the sound design works very well; whether it be the wind howling through a hallway to sudden slams in an otherwise quiet room. Special props to the sound design of the Ghosts themselves; as their digital moaning & growling is truly off-putting. The audio is extremely effective and truly sells the atmospheric horror the game works hard to accomplish.
However there is a minor but annoying issue with the footstep sounds. They’re heavily digitized extremely loud; which contrasts heavily against the rest of the audio design. Wile forgivable it can distract from the otherwise amazing feel of the game and become a bit annoying.
Like many, Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story appeared on my radar due to Top Hat Studios‘ legendary refusal to censor the game. Seeing a studio put so much care into the game to right out defend the game publicly convinced me to give the game a try. After playing through the game in its entirety; I’m thankful I did.
It’s common for bloated AAA games to completely overshadow Indie games like this; but it seems this game is actually getting some of the attention it certainly deserves. It’s a breath of fresh-air for the Cyberpunk sub-genre and is an interesting take on the survival horror formula; all in a unique 2.5D visual style.
Where the game shines in almost every aspect, it is deeply flawed in it’s most important area: the gameplay. There were so many times during my playthrough that I wanted to just stop playing because the levels were so poorly designed. However I can recognize that there is more to this game than just its gameplay; and I appreciate it for that.
Overall, Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story tells a disturbing yet fulfilling story; utilizing it’s near perfect atmosphere and unique 2.5D visual style to accomplish it. Even with the gameplay that is flawed; the game certainly holds itself to an extremely high standard, earning a 75%!
We were provided a game code for Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story for review purposes; but this has no effect on the authenticity of the praise and criticism this game received. For the review I played Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story on the Nintendo Switch.
Sense – A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is now available on Nintendo Switch & PC via Steam for $19.99! Visit the game’s official website to learn more about the game, and it’s’ planned releases on other platforms.
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