Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
When developer The Deep End Games first announced its new horror game Perception, I was immidiatly intrigued, not only because of the game’s unique hook which involves exploring a spooky mansion while playing as a young blind woman, but also because the game is set in Massachusetts, my home state. After a short delay on consoles, I finally got to play the finished game for myself recently, and it was certainly an…interesting experience. While Perception certainly scores points for its original concept and tense atmosphere, the uneven quality of its storytelling and the repetitive nature of its basic gameplay ultimately drag it down out of the pantheon of “great games” and leave it firmly placed in the realm of “ok games.”
Seeing Without Seeing
Anyone who has been following Perception’s development with even the slightest hint of interest likely already knows this, but for those who don’t, the game casts players in the role of a young woman named Cassie who has been drawn to a mysterious mansion located on the coast of Massachusetts by a series of vague nightmares. Cassie is determined to solve the mystery behind the mansion’s eerie beckoning despite the ominous dark energy it radiates from every wall, hallway, and dark corner.
Oh, and Cassie just happens to be blind.
Cassie’s lack of sight means that players must utilize her mastery of echolocation, an ability which allows her to briefly “see” her immediate surroundings by using the sounds generated by strong gusts of wind, doors opening, Cassie’s footsteps, and, when all else fails, having Cassie tap her walking cane on an object with the push of a button. This gameplay concept not only gives Perception an added layer of tension (since the player can never really see anything that’s more than a few feet away from them), it feeds into the narrative framework of having Cassie venture to the mansion alone as a way to show her independence.
It’s an interesting framing device to be sure, but it’s also one which tends to trip over itself at times. Nearby landmarks such as fireplaces, staircases, and doorways are automatically highlighted in green if Cassie taps her cane near them, but the fact that multiple landmarks can be highlighted with a single cane tap oftentimes make it hard to discern which direction Cassie came from and where she’s supposed to go. A handy “sixth sense’ feature helps to guide the player towards Cassie’s next goal, but it too can prove unreliable at times since it usually just shifts the player’s viewpoint to a far-off goal while offering no discernible clues as to how to reach the goal.
Things In The Dark
Of course, as any spooky abandoned mansion ought to be, the mansion in Perception happens to be haunted by a malevolent spirit known only as The Presence. While The Presence can show up during certain scripted story encounters, the game adds yet another layer of tension by making it so that The Presence will also appear if Cassie makes too much noise in quick succession.
Having The Presence show up in either capacity certainly is terrifying since it will quickly hunt down and grab Cassie if she doesn’t quickly find a hiding spot, but a lot of the tension The Presence creates is diffused when you realize that, if the hostile spirit catches Cassie, it doesn’t result in a game over. Instead, Cassie is simply whisked back to a nearby checkpoint, retaining whatever progress she made in the current chapter.
Speaking of which, each of Perception’s four chapters does a decent enough job of conjuring unique horror scenarios that mix Cassie’s present-day antics with memories and ghosts from various historical periods. Getting to experience first-hand the creepy stories of a World War II woman who longs to be reunited with her enlisted husband, or an eccentric doctor who created an army of dolls just to make his daughters happy is certainly a treat, but the chapters themselves aren’t that long, and you’ll likely beat the entire game in a mere 2-3 hours if you’re even a mildly competent exploration/adventure games fan.
Other interesting gimmicks such as Cassie using apps on her phone to help her solve text and image-based puzzles help to break up the otherwise monotonous exploration-based gameplay which often doesn’t extend far beyond “reach obstacle, find solution to bypass obstacle, rinse, repeat.” However, while the storytelling attached to the historic elements of each chapter is often quite compelling, Cassie’s own tale is markedly less so, and while I won’t go into spoilers here, the final reveal at the end of the game felt both confusing and anti-climactic. I also wasn’t a fan of Perception’s slight reliance on jump scares, though to the game’s credit they were actually used to help accentuate the game’s story instead of merely as cheap ways to make me jump.
I commend The Deep End Games for trying to mix together a creepy atmospheric setting, unique echolocation gameplay, and a story that cleverly mixes real-life historic facts with an original tale of one woman refusing to let the world see her as a cripple, I just wish the whole package had come together a little more cohesively.