*Disclaimer* A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Perception places players in the shoes of Cassie, a girl who decides to visit a house that has been appearing in her dreams. Unlike most protagonists in video games, Cassie has a disability that is the primary gameplay gimmick in Perception. She’s blind, which means that most of the experience is pitch black. While this seems like a huge disadvantage, Cassie has a few tricks up her sleeves that will help navigate the residence. By tapping her cane on the ground, players can use echolocation. This ability sends a vibration across the room which shows Cassie the objects around the environment. In addition to this, there are two cell phone apps that are mainly used to advance the narrative. The first app is called Delphi, which deciphers written text, while the second app, Friendly Eyes, connects Cassie with a representative who will describe the objects that are around her.
Most horror games fall into specific subgenres. There’s a group I call “defenseless horror”, which includes games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and the Outlast series. There’s survival horror where games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Dino Crisis fall into and then we have action horror. This subgenre features titles like The Evil Within, Resident Evil 4, and Dead Space. Perception almost feels like a walking simulator mixed with a game of hide-and-seek. Most of the game revolves around Cassie trying to reach the next objective. Actually, a lot of the experience has the protagonist just walking around. Without using echolocation, navigation is tough. Each footstep emits a small flash of light that will provide some slight assistance, but if you are really lost, tapping your cane is the way to go. Unfortunately, the use of this ability has a drawback.
Echolocation makes a lot of sound and Cassie isn’t alone in the house. Roaming around the building is a malevolent spirit called The Presence. It has one mission, hunt Cassie down and end her life. You’ll know that the presence is around because the creature’s haunting voice can be heard menacingly throughout the halls and the screen starts to turn red. When this happens, that means the clock is ticking. In order to survive, Cassie will need to find a hiding place, such as a closet or under a bed. Once you get into one of these areas, The Presence seems to disappear. While it’s supposed to be a huge threat, I found the enemy to be more of a nuisance. When The Presence started to chase me, I didn’t have any trouble finding a hiding spot, but going back to the room I was previously in became a difficult task. This is because I would be forced to use echolocation again and that could potentially alert the enemy.
To help players that are lost, the developers added a hint feature which highlights where the next objective is located. I found this inclusion ironic because as players, we should truly be in Cassie’s shoes. Since she’s blind, the next objective shouldn’t be shown in the environment. It takes away from the overall experience. I would have actually preferred to feel a bigger connection with Cassie by trying to find the next area on my own. For a character that is supposed to be blind, Perception features a lot of hand-holding.
From a narrative standpoint, Perception is hit or miss. Each chapter is a self-contained story which has Cassie trying to help various spirits who have not found peace in the house. I actually found myself engaged in a few of the storylines, but as the narrative progressed, it started to fizzle. By the end of the game, I started to feel a disconnect between myself and Cassie. It’s a shame because Perception starts off on a very strong note.
Visually, Perception is okay to look at. Since most of the game is in darkness, you can’t really make out a lot of the environments. There are moments of greatness after using echolocation, but I rarely used the ability for fear of alerting The Presence. This meant that most of my game time was spent looking at completely darkened screens. From an audio standpoint, Perception is a wonderful sounding game. What Cassie lacks in sight, she makes up for in hearing. Whenever echolocation is activated, we can hear the vibrations around the room. The voice acting is solid and the sudden jolts from a few set-pieces sent a shiver or two down my spine.
Although the game is in the horror genre, I didn’t find it particularly scary. While The Presence is freaky and there are dolls with guns at one point in the game, (yes, there are dolls with guns) Perception feels like it has more style than substance. Walking through the house has some creepy overtones, but the solitary nature of Cassie’s journey really makes the game feel lifeless. With that being said, as a fan of walking simulators, it’s cool to see this gametype used in a different genre.
Perception from developer The Deep End Games is a mixed bag. On one hand, the setting is excellent, the protagonist is likeable, and the gameplay gimmick is not only unique but engaging. While I’m a huge fan of horror, the game fails to really scare the player. There are moments of greatness that are overshadowed by mediocrity. Although I was left underwhelmed by the overall experience, I must commend The Deep End Games on an ambitious first project. Unlike so many games on the market, Perception follows through on its unique premise. I look forward to the studio’s next project. While Perception is far from perfect and I found plenty of issues, there are enough good qualities that would make me recommend playing through the game during a weekend.