Developer: The Deep End Games
Reviewed on: PC
I’ve often imagined what it is like to be blind, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It was this aspect of Perception that interested me the most. How successfully will this game make be feel like I am blind? While I cannot speak from experience, and probably no one can, I walked away from Perception feeling like they took too many liberties with the main character’s handicap. The end result is less of an exploration into a world I will hopefully never visit, and more of a boring trek through a fairly mundane haunted house.
You play as Cassie, a blind woman investigating an old New England house to verify the accuracy of an urban legend she’s heard about. Upon entering the house, she quickly starts to have visions about the previous inhabitants of the house and unwinds a dark, twisted story. The events of the story actually unfold in a rather tense fashion, slowly giving you drips of narrative until the whole picture finally comes into view. Perception feels like a modern day, narrative driven “walking simulator” in the vein of Gone Home, with the added element of horror.
It’s that horror element that really drags the game down. You’d think that a blind character would add a whole new level of tension to a horror game, but most of the scares are rote. The game relies on sudden noises and jump scares far too often. On top of that, it tells you early on that if you make too much noise it will attract enemies. However, I was able to play the entire game without triggering any enemy encounters, outside of the few scripted moments, because it warned me of the danger.
I can see how this mechanic could have been extremely intense. However, the game provides too many ways that subvert its own design. For instance, the cane you use to echo locate is the primary source of “noise” that attracts the monsters, it’s also the only way you can clearly see the layout of a room. Except it’s not. There are certain objects, like key doorways that will always be highlighted for you. You can also press a button and have your view immediately snap to your next destination, which is also highlighted for you. These two elements combine to make navigating the house extremely easy. Add in copious amounts of backtracking and it ends up being a cakewalk to avoid attracting baddies.
This essentially means the gameplay elements built to keep you occupied between story reveals end up feeling unnecessary and more of a nuisance. The game would have been stronger if it was more streamlined and simply provided the feeling of impending dread, or perhaps didn’t outright tell you that noises attracted enemies. I would have felt more satisfied figuring out that mechanic on my own, rather than have it be a text prompt on the screen.
Visually, the game is actually quite striking. Many times your entire screen will be pitch black, and tapping your cane will reveal the geometry in a radius around you. All you see is the hard outline of objects, no color or detail. I’m not sure if this is an accurate representation of what blind people see when they echolocate, but it’s an effective translation of something that’s exceedingly difficult to know for sure.
The other element of the presentation is the audio. I highly recommend playing this game with a good set of headphones, because that is where most of the tension comes from. Hearing the growls as enemies get closer to you, hearing the echo of your cane bounce off the walls, and being startled by sudden noises is key to being immersed in the game. The voice acting is also really well done, with a great performance by Angela Morris as Cassie. While I think it relies too heavily on noises designed to jump scare you, the overall audio presentation must be commended.
Perception tries to take the immersive sim genre in a few new directions by adding in horror between story beats. While the presentation is top notch, the scares just aren’t there. It’s too easy to subvert enemy encounters and there are too many “been there seen that” moments. I would have rathered the story be told in a more straight forward manner, because I feel it is the game’s strongest element. Instead, I feel like I spent too much time navigating a boring house without enough pay off at the end.
Perception looks great and has a unique approach to storytelling, however, it gets bogged down by it's reliance on typical horror tropes.