Hell in a cell.
We’ve all been the hero. We’ve saved the princess/kingdom/world/universe more times than we can count, and sometimes, we want to root for the other team. Spending your time on the other side of the ethical ball by laying waste to those unforgivably insipid do-gooders is rewarding in its own evil right.
Unless, that is, it’s Trapt, the fourth installment of the Deception series and the first to grace the PS2. The previous titles have all had little to do with one another aside from the basic premise: you’re in cahoots with the devil, and you kill people with crazy traps. Sounds pretty cool, right? Too bad the execution of this plan appears to have been handled not by a deliciously evil mastermind, but by some unmistakably bungling lackeys.
The story is delivered entirely in Japanese with hastily constructed English subtitles and makes very little sense. Our star is Princess Allura, who is being framed for the king’s very recent assassination. She flees from the castle to the royal family’s old mansion in the haunted forest, only the first in several stupid moves by the young lass. Upon entering the front door, she is inexplicably ‘marked’ by the Fiend, who’s apparently been imprisoned there. He says ‘Feed me souls, or I’ll kill you,’ and without putting up much of a fuss, Allura proceeds to mash her pursuers with the Fiend’s unholy traps.
Plenty of random characters float in and out of this mess, with some incomprehensible “whodunit” bits forming some sort of unholy union with the whole ‘pawn of the devil’ thing. Occasionally you’re given a non-sequitorial yes/no question like, “Flee the kingdom?” which merely determine which of the inconsequential characters will be your next victim. It’s all so painfully translated, poorly localized, misspelled and uninspired that I wish the whole thing had been left in its native tongue. At least then someone might have figured out this disaster of a story.
Misguided plot notwithstanding, you’ll smash, burn, and pierce enemies in various rooms of the mansion, and later in the castle and the old castle, providing a decent number of dangerous and pointy rooms in which to drop traps. Every location has four or more rooms, with additional rooms being unlocked by buying keys. Each room has its own built-in implements of destruction, like chandeliers, falling pillars or something covered in spikes, and these complement your traps, which consist of floor, ceiling, and wall variations. There’s a pretty nice selection of dubious traps to set, including giant rocks, buzz-saws, bombs, arrows, sharp pendulums, and other mean stuff. In any mission, you can equip nine traps (three of each type), and you’re allowed to have one of each type set at a time.
Before the ’round’ starts, you lay out the traps on a grid in each room, taking advantage of the environment by, say, setting a flaming rock to roll down a staircase or electrifying water on the floor. The idea is to hit your victim with as many traps as possible to build a combo, netting you more cash to buy more traps. Some of the combos can get pretty crazy, provided you’re creative. My favorite involves catching a poor bastard in a bear trap, then launching a spear out of the wall to carry him into an obelisk, which proceeds to fall and crush him. Wicked. You can set them all up at once from the Pause screen, meaning the traps will be ready to go when you enter the room. This system works fairly well; what’s broken is everything around it.
The biggest problem lies in actually seeing what’s going on. The camera has only one zoomed-in, third-person view, which never points in the right direction. Regardless of the level, you run around like an idiot hoping to lead mindless enemies into traps, but since you can barely see anything, it’s like the blind leading the dumb. I suppose if you could see from a bird’s-eye perspective, the gameplay would be even easier than it already is – and maybe even less fun – but at least there would be another option.
It just gets worse. The traps lose their entertainment value quickly due to the repetitive and stupid nature of the A.I. Your enemies slowly lumber after you, no more than two at a time. Meanwhile, you scamper about luring them near your glowing trap symbols while they half-heartedly attempt to murder you. Later in the game, the enemies become resistant to certain types of traps and have far more health, cheaply increasing the difficulty simply by removing options. And that’s about it. Trapt is at its best little more than a sadistic game of cat and mouse, but it’s usually not at its best. Gone are the interesting features of the Deception series, like trap enhancement or making monsters from parts of fallen opponents.
Every title in the series has suffered from uninspiring graphics and framerate problems, and sadly, its migration to the PS2 has solved none of this. When a trap hits, the game can choke so hard you’ll think you’re in bullet-time. Those dips lasts for a good few seconds, and while the characters are pretty detailed, nothing about the rest of the bland graphics warrants such an ugly performance hit. While a framerate gripe isn’t really a deal breaker, when a PS2 title looks more like PSOne material, there’s no excuse.
The sound falls into this category as well, with unconvincing trap effects and dull, repetitive screams of pain. The music tries to be creepy but becomes grating; it ultimately sounds better when turned off.
Which is where I’m headed with Trapt. Despite three practice runs and a genuinely cool idea, Tecmo just can’t seem to get it right. Don’t be lured in with its evil promises – the shallow gameplay and rough delivery will make everyone who plays it a victim.