Sense – 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is not at all what I expected it to be. This game is oozing with atmosphere, and lulls you into a false sense of security right from the word go. All of that comes crashing down rather quickly though, scaring you senseless just when you least expect it.
While Sense isn’t without its flaws, it’s definitely got a hook that will grip you and keep you playing. Even when you’re frustrated, or just too petrified to carry on, you’ll find yourself doing so anyway; which I think is the hallmark of a great horror game.
Sense – 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story
Publisher: Top Hat Studios
Platforms: Windows PC, Mac (Reviewed), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release Date: August 25th, 2020
The story of Sense is a little hard to follow. However, I also believe it’s one of the most unique in its genre. You start out as a young woman, Mei-Lin, heading out on her first date. This short section introduces you to the game’s fully-realized cyberpunk setting.
Once you’ve had time to settle into the world, the game turns everything on its head. Everything you’ expect to be an advantage in a cyberpunk future is now working against you. There are spirits seemingly only visible to you through your augmented eyes, but they’re extremely dangerous nonetheless.
To complete the story you must solve the mysteries of 14 lost souls. By learning more about their lives, you can discover the truth behind the Mei-Lin’s family curse. It takes a while to come together, but when it does you’re given a satisfying conclusion that more than warrants the scares.
What I really enjoyed about the story is how much it blends this dystopian cyberpunk future with Chinese folklore. Absolutely everything had a sense of the old world coming crashing out of history and into the present, and it’s wonderful.
You never feel like you’re out of your depth with what the game is telling you. It’s very good at explaining why you’d light a shrine in remembrance of someone. But it’s just the feeling that this young woman is having to resort to archaic practices in order to survive that makes each new area so interesting.
The other theme that Sense explores is the evolution of technology. Everything Mei-Lin sees and hears could simply be her augmentations messing around, but they could also be real.
The game raises some valid points about questionable technology that is becoming more and more realistic in today’s world. I found myself thinking about how I’d react if my implants suddenly had be seeing the dead. Not well is the answer.
Gameplay is where Sense lets itself down somewhat. This game is more of an interactive story than it is a point and click adventure. There are elements of both, but each new level is so linear that it’s hard to call it anything but an interactive story.
I never felt clever when I solved a puzzle. The only path forward is made very obvious to you. All you need to do is interact with every available object. After a certain point, you just need to repeat this, because you’ll have hit a trigger that allows you to interact with an object in a new way now.
I really do feel like the gameplay is what lets the game down, because everything else is pretty special. What I will say is that hiding from enemies is a pure highlight. There’s a QTE that’s challenging yet fair, and it racks the tension up tenfold.
Visually this game is an absolute treat. The dystopian cyberpunk city feels well fleshed out, and the characters all look as though they fit within the world. Despite no one saying it, everyone is augmented in some way, it’s just become so normal to look fantastic that they don’t even count it anymore. Mei-Lin herself even says she’s not augmented before pulling out her eyes.
This quality extends into the darker areas of the game as well. Even when corridors are pitch black, the limited amount of lighting there is shows a stark contrast between the old and the new. Any area that has been forgotten is literally falling apart.
What I love most about the looks of this game is the UI though. Some is restricted to the menus, while the best parts are the interactive prompts. These move across the walls, and even into the foreground, fully immersing you in the world.
The soundtrack is fine. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s also not terrible. Most of the time there isn’t actually any music at all. My hope is that this wasn’t a bug, and an intentional choice, because it made every hallway darker and scarier.
When there is music, it’s a cue for something that’s happening. This might be an enemy approaching from the distance, or a story cutscene. When it’s there, the music is great, but there’s just not that much of it.
One thing that I feel I need to point out is the “generous” boob physics. Right from the first moment you start playing, Mei-Lin’s breasts do not stop bouncing up and down as if they’re balls of jelly strapped to her chest.
I understand that the boob physics may fit well within the general visual themes of the game- strippers, hyper-sexualized adverts, body enhancements, and red-light district regulars- but they’re downright distracting.
It felt like it was too much in an otherwise serious horror game. This may not be a downside for many players- and an outright selling point for some. For the latter, they may still become distracting in an entirely different way.
The game’s cosplay system doesn’t help this. It lets Mei-Lin wear a number of different outfits as a reward for thinking outside of the box with the games various puzzles. For those who remember older Japanese horror games that unlocked sexy costumes for practically mastering the game, you get the idea what to expect here.
Overall I had a lot of fun with Sense – 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story. It’s not a game that I’d usually play, but I’m so glad that I did. It does a tremendous job of getting that horror atmosphere right from the point that everything goes south.
This game is also a lot more engaging and thoughtful than any screenshot might suggest. Even the save rooms are eerie. They’re nothing more than pitch black rooms with old TVs blaring static at you. I actually felt safer once I’d left the save room.
This game isn’t going to challenge you though. If you want something that requires you to think outside of the box and solve puzzles, look elsewhere. What Sense will do is take you through an intriguing story that you’ll struggle to forget in a hurry.
I think that the points this game raises about modern technology, and how it might affects us adversely are also well-realized and thoughtful. They’ll make you think twice about getting a smartphone implant, or even wearing a VR headset.
Sense – 不祥的预感: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story was reviewed on Mac using a review copy provided by Top Hat Studios. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.