There was a cool, little game for the PS1, birthed in the cauldron of experimental development that tagged along with the rise of the 32-bit generation. Tecmo (at that point, probably still known best by US gamers for Tecmo Super Bowl) came up with Deception, a new kind of action game that didn't have you swinging away at enemies with swords or your fists, but setting up devious traps and luring unwitting heroes into them like a spider weaving its web. It was billed as a game where you got to play the villain, offing do-gooders that had come to take your head. As interesting as the concept was, it turns out to be a bit of a gimmick. Looking back on this particular era of gaming, a lot of the experimental titles turned out the same way, but because they were fresh and new, we'd play them through the night just to continue experiencing what they had to offer. They weren't bad ideas, per se, only bad design. A little refinement once developers got used to the new consoles quickly showed they knew what they were doing.
This isn't a history lesson, but it does serve as a good standpoint from which to evaluate Trapt, the fourth Deception gaming, coming five long years after the 3rd (Dark Delusion) debuted on the PS1. Though it no longer carries the name of the franchise, it is the same game . Almost entirely. Granted, the story is different and there are new and grand environmental traps, but over half a decade, you would think Tecmo could come up with better ways to improve the formula. History has not treated this series too well. Which is a shame, because the concept is still fairly entertaining.
However, I don't remember the series being much more than a cult hit, so explaining the "trappings" of the game, so to speak, would probably serve well. All Deception stories are basically similar - you've got the ability to lay down traps in your manor/castle, people are out to get you, you lure them in and try to defeat them before they kill you first. Trapt adheres to this basis, as well. As Princess Allura, you're stuck in the Hamlet-esque world of royalty gone wrong where drama, deception, and intrigue are always afoot. As the game opens, the former Queen and Allura's mother has recently died; the King a complete mess because of it. He hardly speaks, ignores his duties, and suffers from bouts of depression. In spite of this, he has apparently found the time to re-marry an inglorious wretch with delusions of grandeur. She's Allura's new step-mom and seeks to steal the throne from the rightful heiress. Suddenly, while observing the grave, the King is struck in the back with an arrow and the new addition to the family is quick to place the blame on our young heroine for his untimely death. Allura flees the castle with her loyal hand servant, pursued by the royal guard and any mercenary or warrior who finds the price on her head worth the risk. Though she has a few friends left at the castle, it's no longer safe for her there and so the princess seeks refuge in an old family mansion located out in the woods. There she finds the mysterious spirit who unlocks her ability to lay traps.
If the intro sounds somewhat lengthy, it is. Shakespearean in spirit, as it might be, it's a little too long-winded and represents a problem for Trapt as a whole: the cutscenes are far too time consuming. Each playable scenario only takes a few minutes to complete, as you rid your residence of pesky invaders, but the cinemas take far longer. It honestly doesn't help when you have several strung together at once, because the game has to load in-between just about everything. So, 5-10 minutes later, you're playing again...or are you?
While the gameplay for a concept such as this should be interesting, it hits a few snags which break the formula despite their necessity. The first is actually setting the traps. There are three types: floor traps, wall traps, and ceiling traps. You can only set one of each in every room of your environment (though they can be changed on the fly), but you do this by pausing the game and going into a different menu. From there, you choose the traps you have purchased, assign them to a button (triangle for ceiling, x for floor, etc.), and place them on a grid within the room. It's actually fairly intuitive - setting up the traps is easy as the interface shows you where you can put them and in what direction they will deploy, so that combos can be performed. The problem lies in the fact that it disrupts the action and if you're unsatisfied with your trap placement, you have to keep going back into the menu to tweak it again and again. Not that the in-game action is all that fierce, though. Sure, you're being chased by enemies and all that, but both they and Allura move somewhat sluggishly so that you can get them in traps. This is all really necessitated by the game's concept, but it breaks it down at the same time. Trapt just can't win.
There is some reason to play the game, though, as actually unleashing the traps is quite a bit of fun. Simply press the corresponding button when an enemy is in range and voila, minced mercenary! Their physics are fairly done (i.e. Place a huge iron ball on some stairs and it'll roll down them) and pulling off combos can be fun to watch. The sad part is that there's no real way to just sit back and see them unfold from a distance. The default camera isn't all that spectacular, and when an enemy gets caught by a trap, it switches to a special view that doesn't always provide the best look at the action. I get the feeling that the concept for Trapt would be better served as a torture-device version of The Incredible Machine than the story-driven action title it tries to be.
As for what traps are actually in your arsenal? Well, you only start out with a few, but you can buy more using Warl, a sort of "torture currency" that erupts from enemies when they fall victim to your machinations. Combos, of course, produce more than catching them in a single trap. Snatch enough Warl up and Allura can access new areas of the environment and build new and improved torture devices. They range from traditional stuff such as gigantic spiked balls, arrow slits, and flamethrowers to slapstick classics like banana peels and stuffing a vase on top of someone's head. Still others are a bit unconventional, citing spring-loaded floor traps and magnetic walls which draw the enemy in. In addition to the deployable traps are some environmental ones - parts of each room which can be used to hurt your pursuers bad. Early on, you'll discover stone pillars which can be toppled and a stone slab that comes down from the ceiling to crush enemies. Be careful, though, because these can hurt Allura, too.
One of the few new additions to Trapt are special Dark Illusions: over-the-top traps unique to certain rooms, that can only be unleashed after fulfilling certain conditions. For instance, the Man-Eating Music Box can be triggered by lighting the candles in the very first room of the game and then luring the enemy into a certain area between them. They're as cinematic and gruesome as they sound and are probably one of the highlights of the game, although they are often less practical to use than your traditional traps.
Enemies themselves are fairly dumb and predictable. Melee fighters will beeline right for Allura, while long-distance fighters will sit back and try to take potshots from afar. Every enemy class, though (and there are a decent number), has certain strengths and weaknesses, as well as resistances to particular types of traps. Don't think you'll get a Thief or Assassin caught by a spring-loaded floor trap, for instance. What is kind of cool, though, is that the game catalogues everybody you meet or kill, so that you can look up their profile. It'll tell you what their stats are and will give you a short blurb as to who they are and what they've done. It almost makes you feel sorry for having to kill some of them, but, hey, it's in self-defense, right? Still, it's a nice touch to give seemingly inconsequential foes some personality. Given that you'll often face them in varied combinations, knowing their stats and weaponry and which traps to use on them provides Trapt with a level of strategy that somewhat offsets the tedium of doing the same thing over and over again for each chapter.
Graphically, Trapt isn't much to talk about. It looks about as good as any other Tecmo game on the PS2, such as the Fatal Frame series, but there's no super-sweet eye candy to be found. Same goes for the sound, unfortunately. I can't even remember any music and the voice acting is serviceable, if anything. There is some replay value, though. You can go back and try to find all of the Dark Illusions are pull off big combos. There are also side missions to play in each chapter which reveal extra bits of the story and a few special items can be bought with Warl which unlock new things to play with.
I've always held that there are two types of games, though: games about the experience and games about the mechanics. An good experience Trapt is not, but the mechanics of laying traps and unleashing them on enemies can, at times, be extremely satisfying. That is perhaps why Deception has always remained a strictly cult series - its mechanics clearly are not enough to make it a hit phenomenon, but are appealing enough to a core group of gamers. If the idea of Trapt tickles your fancy, it's probably worth a shot, but the shortcomings in almost every area make it hard to recommend to most.