During Perception we play as Cassie, a blind woman who has been host to a plague of nightmares involving a haunted estate with a rich, dark history. To help the players who have no experience with blindness Cassie uses a form of echolocation to build a rough image of the surroundings in her mind. Although the game boasts clever mechanics and storytelling methodologies which I found to be progressive, it fails to marinade the dish before placing it in the oven, leaving a dry and rough texture to the finished product. At the beginning I was very weary of the animosity delivered from the environment but after the first 40 minutes I felt as though I were breaking and entering a quiet residential estate rather than a spooky house.
Perception encourages the player to explore the estate at Echo Bluff to advance the story. There are four chapters, each in with their own individual timelines and type of horror story. Each chapter comes with their own clever twists and plot. Each of the stories could be a standalone thriller narrative in their own right but they all relate back to the nightmares being experienced by present day Cassie. I particularly appreciated the balanced narrative in the third chapter.
The third chapter presents events and information involving the police, a man and young girls. While it implies the man was abusing the young lady, on completion of the chapter the truth reveals this is not the case. The message being it’s important to be aware of such things, but to consider things carefully before ignorantly accusing someone. To advance to each chapter Cassie must explore the haunted mansion for clues and information. Once in a room with referential items, tap the stick and they receive a green outline so you can’t miss them. There is even a button to show the next objective marker no matter where in the house it is. As thrillers go, it’s not particularly thrilling. If the player uses the stick conservatively there’s no real challenge obstructing them from the final chapter and finishing the game.
The mechanics in Perception are clever but nothing revolutionary. If anything it feels borrowed, and used, much like some of the cliché motifs found during the narrative. We see through, what I can only assume, is the mind of our protagonist Cassie. Through the use of echolocation provided by miscellaneous malfunctioning devices such as dripping taps, leaking pipes and our stick we can create a rough image of Cassie’s surroundings. Much like the fog of war mechanic in strategy games, the darkness will recover its lost territory over time so it is important to pay attention when causing noise.
The main threat to Cassie comes in the form of The Presence. I feel like the developers could have been more experimental with the design for The Presence instead of a hooded figure leaping from the darkness. However, make too much noise and it will come looking for you, in which case you run to a designated hiding spot and hold your bladder until it passes. To be fair, out of the 5-6 hours it took to play Perception I saw very little of The Presence. While I enjoyed the mechanics employed to help blind Cassie explore the house, such as the text to speech app and the phone line operator, the novelty wore off very quickly and the threat from The Presence was only ever warranted. Using the stick conservatively ensures The Presence is practically non-existent, and leaves Cassie to explore the mansion unmolested bar her uncharismatic one liners. These are often attempts at sarcastic or witty remarks, but contrast sharply with her immediate change of attitude when in danger makes Cassie feel pretty transparent. The developers included the option to turn off the random remarks, which says it all really. The voice acting was quiet flat and often monotonous which furthered my indifference for poor Cassie. Although the threat of darkness and The Presence add a rhythmic tension early in the game, as players become accustomed to the mechanics and environments within the mansion the game reveals its very shallow learning curve and
This leaves a lot of space to build on the story as the player explores the mansion unmolested. Space for lore about The Presence, Cassie and her abilities and the magic behind the house itself. I feel like Deep End Games didn’t capitalize on this. I was very interested into the type of blindness that Cassie has. How it affected how she perceived the rooms in her mind. For instance, if Cassie were blind from birth she could have a wildly different idea of what the world looks like when contrasted with how those that are not blind perceive the world, such as the phone line operator that Cassie has describe her immediate surroundings. Instead players can expect cliché encounters, such as the dolls shooting from the toy train tracks and endless corridors of similarly styled rooms nearly indistinguishable from the one before it.
I wouldn’t write Perception off completely. I truly did enjoy playing the game, even if I couldn’t take it seriously as a thriller. It’s the first game where I’ve played a blind protagonist and Deep End Games did a great job at creating mechanics such as the use of echolocation and the darkness to balance the experience. With that in mind I came to the conclusion that I expected too much from Perception who didn’t have the backing of AAA game companies. The game is more style rather than substance, and once I appreciated that I was able to appreciate the efforts and thought the developers put into the game. The narrative is at the very least engaging and the chapters brush on topics AAA developers would normally wrap red tape around and avoid.
Bar one or two genuine scares Perception doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to horror, a lot of the animations were boring and didn’t intimidate neither me nor brave Cassie. Perception fails to deliver on the horror side, but boasts clever mechanics and an engaging but flawed narrative. The artstyle is oiriginal and works perfectly with the darkness and echolocation mechanics.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.