By Michael Sagoe (mikedot), Senior Writer
With a small, but slowly rising trend of asymmetrical multiplayer horror games from late 2016 and onward, a new indie dev team by the name of Automaton are throwing their hat into the ring, joining the ranks of titles such as Dead by Daylight, White Noise 2, Last Year and the official Friday the 13th game, all of which hold onto a very similar premise of hunt or be hunted. While these games don’t include very much to distinguish themselves from each other, Automaton attempts to pull their newest title away from the pack by making their game focused on a more cerebral kind of experience.
Simply known as “Deceit,” this is a multiplayer horror game that’s all about trust and deception rather than stealth and brute force. With an asylum setting that feels like it was pulled straight out of the Saw movie franchise, players will have to scavenge for supplies, complete objectives and try to reach their main goal of escaping or killing fellow players while convincing and/or tricking other players that you’re innocent.
Basically, the premise of the game can be summed up like this…
Internet memes aside, the concept had me intrigued, and with my time spent playing similar games, I really wanted to see how much this game stacked up against them.
After several hours of play, however, I came to the conclusion that while this game’s concept is very keen, its focus on trust and deception can be more of a frustrating endeavor at times, especially when playing by yourself.
To start things off: The control scheme is very typical of what you would expect from an FPS title, so I won’t spend any time explaining the bare basics of them. What I will say is that the feel of the controls are very adequate when it comes to moving around, firing off your weapons and performing several other actions. For communication, the game offers text chat, voice chat and character voice commands, all of which will work as well as they should, but most players will want to stick to using voice chat the most as the critical decision making nature of the game will call for players to make callouts as soon as possible.
Gameplay and Features
Unlike other asymmetrical multiplayer horror games, the game has 6 players in a match instead of 5, and each match starts with two players as infected. No one knows who is infected except the players that are, and at times it can be very hard or very easy telling who’s clean and who isn’t. Personally, though, it took me a long while to figure out how I should handle myself in each match, as some players either catch on very quickly or are way too afraid of getting taken out, so they end up firing or killing anyone that gets in their way. Compared to a game like Dead by Daylight where it’s clear as day regarding who’s an ally and who’s an enemy, Deceit feels a lot more chaotic in nature, which can be a good or bad thing. It all depends on how much you can tolerate bullshit deaths, and trust me when I say that your first few matches are going to be bullshit.
Not only do you have to worry about your fellow players, but you also have to worry about the environment, because players must try to activate switches to reduce the amount of blackout time that infected players will have in order to kill opponents, look for items that can aid in a player’s survival, as well as continue to move forward while dealing with a multi-stage objectives all the way to the finish line.
There’s a lot that players need to think about on the fly as they play this game, which I feel does not make the game as accessible when compared to other similar titles. If you’re innocent, do you try to help other players out or try to stay out of their way? Do you collect items that you feel will increase your chances of surviving or do you feel that will make other players suspect that you’re infected? And if you ARE infected, do you try to lurk around collecting blood bags and intentionally attack other players while claiming that THEY’RE the infected ones, or do you play it off as one of them and try to find a more opportune moment to strike? While the objectives of the game may be simple, the thought process that players will have to go through in order to complete them is not.
The main issue that I feel prevents this game from being more accessible is the need for communication, because in this game, speaking out to other players, whether you’re infected or not, will be a huge factor in whether you win or lose a match. Many times players will instantly suspect that you’re infected even if you spent plenty of time assisting other players, trying to stay out in the open where others can see you and generally trying to fight back in self-defense, only to end up getting killed because you didn’t speak up to ask about how their wife and kids are doing, or something like that.
Sure, you could use in-game chat or character voice chat to communicate, but lots of players seem to ignore those forms of communication completely for some strange reason. Plus with objectives that needed to be completed quickly as well as the looming threat of being suffocated if you don’t reach the next zone of the map after a blackout phase, time is simply never on your side. If you don’t have a microphone or are simply too shy to speak up, playing a round of Deceit all by yourself may seem more difficult than it truly is.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I really like the whole thought process behind Deceit, because when everyone is playing to win and everyone has their poker face on, this is when the game truly starts to shine. Moment-to-moment interrogations, tense chase scenes and more, all being broadcasted through in-game cameras spread throughout the asylum while the game master watches in amusement.
As far as customization goes: There is a fair amount of it for both skills and cosmetics. Between the four different test subjects you can choose from, as well as the infected monsters that you can play as, each character has a set of traits that you can unlock through various challenges while playing a live match. These challenges add a unique side objective to complete, but in some situations I can’t help but feel as if most of these challenges are something that you shouldn’t focus on at all, and will only come as you play naturally.
As for the traits themselves, they can give your character a slight or big advantage depending on your play style, such as being able to move faster in the dark while playing as Chang, or being able to regenerate health 100% faster as Rachel. The current balance between traits, however, seem a bit unfair for certain characters such as Alex being able to start the match with a half-charged camera which can be used to temporarily stuff infected players that are transformed. However, if the player selects Alex and starts the match as an infected, this item is pretty much useless to them.
And as for cosmetic appearances, there’s a small amount of hats, shirts, pants, accessories and weapons that you can choose from that will make your character stand out, and all of which are tied to a loot box system which you earn from winning matches or achieving a level on a single character. A fairly simple and straight forward system, for sure, but in-game notes suggest that there could be changes to this system in the future, so players may not want to get accustomed to it.
Visuals and Presentation
As mentioned above, this game feels very reminiscent of the film “Saw” as the test subjects are thrown into an arena where they scavenge and scatter about the asylum for the game master’s amusement. And speaking of the game master, with his creepy bunny head costume and cheap looking suit, he also seems very reminiscent of the Jigsaw Killer from the Saw franchise. While this theme and setup doesn’t feel very unique in its own right, it still creates a great sense of atmosphere as players are literally forced to descend into chaos as the environment literally forces them to kill each other, one way or another, just as the psychological horror in the Saw movies portray.
While the aesthetics do their job to set the overall atmosphere, the overall technical prowess of the visuals are very average at best, with character models that look bland and basic, average looking texture work for a game that was made using the Unreal 4 engine, and with the worst offender being the transformed infected monster looking very unfrightening. They come across as a bland necromorph rejects from EA’s Dead Space games.
(And on a more personal note: It also doesn’t help as the game seems to have some serious optimization issues despite my PC being well above the recommended system requirements, forcing me to lower the visual settings down to medium just to play at an “acceptable” framerate.)
Probably the most disappointing thing about the visual presentation for this game is the level of violence that is portrayed in this game, because for some strange reason, even when players are being shot in the face, stabbed with knives and synergies or being attacked by the transformed infected monsters themselves, not a whole lot of blood can be seen throughout. It’s probably strange of me to say, but this has to be one of the cleanest horror games I’ve ever played, but not in a good way.
Luckily the audio sort of makes up for the visual absence of blood by having lots of gross and gassy noises being made whenever an enemy gets attacks by an infected that may make your stomach churn a bit, not to mention that the voice acting from the test subject characters, as well as the game master himself, do a fine job of setting the mood for uneasy feelings of dread and insanity.
As I said before, communication is key in Deceit as speaking up to your fellow players could either spell victory or defeat for you. When you do find a match were everyone is using their microphone to play, that’s when the real fun begins. Some players will do and say everything they can to convince you that they’re not infected and it’s quite hilarious to see play out in real-time. In one match, I had someone try to pressure another player to scan him to see if he was infected our not, and it was quite hard to figure out this player’s motives since he was taking a huge risk in getting shot even before the first blackout phase started. Another match, I overheard one player trying to sweet talk another player into giving them access to whatever was available in the lever switch puzzle, which turned out to be a syringe that could be used to insta-kill other players. The first player was very grateful that they got the syringe, because when the blackout phase happened, I overheard this player yelling and attacking them while the attacked player yelled back saying they felt so betrayed. Meanwhile, I was laughing my ass off over the whole ordeal while I attempted to watch my own skin through the entire match.
While it’s certainly fun to play with people that speak up constantly in each match, sometimes there’s a language barrier that gets in the way and prevents you from fully enjoying the game. And I say this because a good chunk of my live matches had me paired up against people that did not speak English. Some of my matches had players that spoke Russian, and a few other matches had players that only spoke Chinese. As you can imagine, trying to convince these players that you’re not infected when they can’t understand a word you’re saying or they can’t understand you generally doesn’t work out too well. Hopefully the devs will plan to add a region system so players can play with folks that are appropriate for their area, but until then, expect some words to be lost in mistranslation.
The idea behind this game is honestly very nice for a multiplayer horror game, and one that has rarely been tried before, but the hit-and-miss presentation and communication issues can really leave this game’s intended experience withering on the vine. For those that are looking for some kind of change of pace with their horror game fix, this may be a good alternative to what’s currently out there, or even what’s left to come in the future. But as it stands, Deceit feels like a game that’s still in an Early Access state, as the game looks and feels very rough around the edges.