HomeReviews3/5 ReviewSense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story Review

Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story Review


We were curious to play Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story for a few reasons. The first and biggest was the controversy that surrounded it, enough to bubble up onto fairly mainstream game news outlets. The second was the C-word – Cyberpunk – which, in 2022, feels like a deliberate shot on a well-known other title. Finally, this is about as genre-bending as gaming gets: it seems to be folding in graphic adventuring, cyberpunk, survival horror and visual novels. Can it come together?

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Let’s do this one by one. The controversy surrounding Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is primarily about boobs. The main character, Mei Lin Mak, has an hourglass figure that would probably snap a human being in half, and that’s been latched onto by outraged Twitter commenters – enough for the publisher, Top Hat Studios to make an ‘oh stop it’ public statement. 

Is it problematic? The short answer is no – at least to our tastes. For one, Mei Lin is at least partially robotic, so she’s constructed this form for herself. If that’s the body she’s chosen, then all the best to her. But most of all, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story doesn’t feel exploitative. The breasts are just sort of there, and the camera doesn’t linger, very little unsavoury happens (outside of some unsettling Hong Kong ghost stories) and we were left with the sense that the outrage came from people who hadn’t played the game. 

The response to the Cyberpunk question is even shorter. Is this attempting to capitalise on Cyberpunk 2077, or take a pot-shot? Of course not. If we’re being cyberpunk purists, we would snarkily say that this isn’t even in the genre. There’s some nostalgic references to outmoded tech (you save your game on Betamax tapes), and there’s some screw-holes on Mei Lin’s face that indicates that she must be synthetic, but – otherwise – this could have been set in modern day Hong Kong and we wouldn’t have bat an eyelid.

All that leaves is the genre crossover, and this is where the curiosity is worthwhile. Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is definitely a mish-mash. Primarily, this is a graphic adventure in the LucasArts mold, but it’s set on a 2D plane rather than a full 3D environment. The direction of movement is solely left and right (with the ability to move into and out of doors that you come across), and you don’t even have the ability to move a cursor or scan the environment. All you can do is move and interact with stuff you stumble across.

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Locking movement to two directions is a big, big call, and it’s a simplification that fatally damages Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story. As Mei Lin moves in one direction, she is prompted by things that she can use: a door, something to examine, perhaps an item lying on the floor. You’d be crazy not to tap A on absolutely everything, as that would mean missing significant items, so Sense becomes a bit of a spam-clicker. The process becomes the same in every room: save as you go in, and then move and tap A, move and tap A, and so on.

You get the sense that Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story knows this, as it tries to complicate matters. Items and locations you’ve bypassed will suddenly become useful, where they weren’t before. A drawer that couldn’t be opened is now unlocked, and that sort of jiggery-pokery. It’s a hopeless band-aid to the problem: it forces you to investigate things multiple times, sure, but it’s incredibly infuriating to find that background detail you ignored the first time is now important. What it leads to is multiple sweeps of the area, as you backtrack to see if something that was rubbish is now gold.

Too often, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story feels like a process rather than a game. It’s hard not to see it this way, because it keeps chucking makework at you, like returning to old rooms dozens of times to ensure that something hasn’t suddenly jack-in-the-boxed to prominence. The sadness is that Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story – without this grating repetition – has some decent stories to tell, and a fantastic sense of mood.

As well as being a graphic adventure, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is a horror story, and it’s here where it’s most successful. There’s more than a little Resident Evil in the fear before you open a door, the way that progress is blocked by door keys, and the way that save games are represented by Betamax tapes. But Sense dabbles more in the Asian ghost tales of games like Fatal Frame, and it’s in this direction that it feels most unsettling. You are locked in an apartment block, and each floor has a terrible past, with a death that created one or more restless spirits. By recovering items that were important to the spirits and making a joss-stick offering, they can be appeased and the floor becomes a little safer.

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While we wouldn’t go so far to say that Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is scary – it mostly pulls its punches and the shocks are actually pretty rare – there’s a definite oppressive mood, and we kept wandering into rooms with the audio clicking like a cockroach, the screen buzzing with static, and us wishing that we’d saved just a little more recently. Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is not a difficult or punishing game, but being confronted by a ghost with it’s spine bent-double still had us running for a broom closet.

You can ignore the controversy and the ‘Cyberpunk’ in the title: they are dead ends in terms of what makes Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story interesting. The bigger question is whether you can make a point-and-click adventure in just two-dimensions, and the answer offered here is ‘no’. Moving in only two directions leaves you with a lack of choice, and Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story feels too simple and easy as a result. Which is confounding, because there are some dread-filled ghost stories here.

As a narrative, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story is enough to keep you cuddling a night-light before you go to sleep. As a game, it’s an exercise in going through the motions. 

You can buy Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story from the Xbox Store

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