From the minds that previously worked on BioShock and Dead Space, this first-person survival horror makes its debut under a new studio name, The Deep End Games. Perception is an eerie tale about a troubled woman named Cassie who succumbs to temptation in searching for the answers behind a recurring nightmare about a mansion known as the Echo Bluff Estate. She decides to investigate the mansion by herself in hoping to find closure and to finally put an end to her unsettling dreams. However, there is one disability that you must share with the curious protagonist, because unfortunately, Cassie also happens to be blind.
I remember being fascinated by a documentary I saw several years back about a teenage boy who uses the skill of human echolocation to measure the distance of his surroundings by clicking his tongue. Our heroine also shares this talent by tapping her cane to create a similar effect for the player to visually understand. This leads to a ripple of sound waves that allow a brief glimpse of the world around you. Other means of vibrations will also react with Cassie’s inner vision, whether it be the wind blowing while outside the mansion, the sound that comes from a record player’s speakers, or the light tap of each footstep. Your cane is, of course, the most useful tool for navigation, but bang it about too much and you will disturb a dangerous presence that’s out to get you.
As much as it sounds, Perception is not as scary as you think. It most certainly has its fair share of Nintendo Switch-dropping moments, but the exploration falls much more in line with games such as Gone Home rather than Outlast – except, it’s nowhere near as interactive and never quite as immersive as the coming of age explorer. It also holds common ground with mystery walking simulator Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture in how you see the spirits of those long gone acting out past events.
Creating a first-person game about a blind woman was never going to be easy, so there are a few other things in place that help Cassie along the way. The first is a mystical sixth sense that helps steer the player in the right direction, and the other is your mobile phone which comes complete with a couple of specialised apps for the blind. While the inclusion of such apps and abilities help overcome certain hurdles that a game like Perception is bound to face, it’s the way that they are implemented at times that can seem a bit ridiculous. An example involves the text-to-speech app, Delphi. There’s a part where you need to find a password to move forward. This is found using Delphi to scan a book of matches left randomly on the floor outside somewhere, which you just happen to locate with your sixth sense. Unfortunately, Perception is littered with moments like this which feels like a half-baked attempt to solve the boundaries that face such an ambitious concept.
If you have ever seen the first season of American Horror Story or have played the cult classic Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem then you will more than likely get vibes of them in Perception. Although the game takes place over the course of one night, each chapter explores different time periods that span across four centuries of residents that fell victim to the mansion. However, it isn’t just the furniture and fashion that changes with each time period, but the architecture itself. Completely new sections extend apon areas that you have previously become familiar with, giving the mansion a personality of its own.
With the exception of a homicidal porcelain doll, the only real threat that you encounter is the “presence.” Once you begin to agitate the restless spirit with the noise that you make, the mansion begins to creek violently and your echovision begins to glow blood red. Your only chance for survival now is to hide in designated places until the mood has settled. The idea of the presence does begin to wear thin rather quickly though, especially after the first time it gets to you. This is because, quite frankly, the evil spirit looks pretty god damn awful. It would’ve been much more effective if there was no visual for the entity at all or just to let it loose at certain parts of the story. All in all, the presence slows you down more than anything else. In fact, it’s easier just to accept your fate and allow it to eat you which will usually spawn you back closer to your next objective anyway. Thankfully, there is an option to turn off the presence if you want to solely concentrate on the story. I did find myself changing that option several times back and forth to try and seek the better experience, but once the gimmick outran its course I chose to stick with the story setting.
The narrative in Perception certainly has potential. The idea of delving into Echo Bluff’s history and how the estate changes around you is an interesting one, although the way Cassie’s narrative flows as you uncover its secrets can feel a little disjointed in execution. Don’t get me wrong, Cassie is a likeable protagonist. It’s just that her reaction to things gives you the impression that she has run around far spookier locations than Yvette Fielding from Most Haunted. She never quite seems as sincere as you want her to be and other strange moments barely get acknowledged at all. You do have the choice to turn off most of Cassie’s narrative before you begin the story if you want to feel like the sole protagonist yourself, but it’s recommended in-game to keep it on.
The tales that lie between each chapter do have a bit of weight to them, from a woman pining for a loved one that has been sent to war to a German inventor and his fixation with dolls. These moments again show the true potential that Perception has over its four chapters, but the conclusion to each can ultimately fall a little flat. Not necessarily within its context as such, as their ideas are strong enough. It’s more the way they ironically look and play out that doesn’t quite pack the punch that I wanted it to. However, although the endgame and connection that ties it all together are a little generic in its final consequences, it does happen to be quite satisfying none the less as it concludes with a few touching sentences that fueled the inspiration behind the game.
Despite not really having the need to flesh out the graphics for obvious reasons, the environments look as good as they really need to. It’s the poor structure of the human anatomy and the few rough animations that draw you out of the experience by how incredibly cheap they look. The audio, on the other hand, is by far the stand out point of Perception, with great attention to the different materials that you clang your cane onto and the overall haunting atmosphere that the sound portrays, especially when nearing the end of the story.
Perception is a game that holds all the basic elements to make for a decent horror game. The idea is unique, the sound is atmospheric, and the story does have potential. It’s everything that’s in between that, sadly, lets the whole experience down. The gameplay hook that it rides upon never really feels as interesting as it wants to be and the stalking mechanic just slows down what is already a laden-footed ordeal. If you are into your ghost hunting TV shows then this may very well be up your street, but, if not, then there’s a chance that you may find the adventure to be underwhelming.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by The Deep End Games