Perception, a first-person investigative survival horror title from former Irrational Games and Bioshock developers turned independent studio Deep End Games explores the loss of sight as players step into the shoes of heroine Cassie Thornton, a young blind woman who ventures to the haunted New England estate of her nightmares in order to get the answers to the many questions inside her head in the studio’s debut title.
Perception: PC, Xbox One, PS4 [Reviewed]
Developer: Deep End Games
Release Date: 30 May 2017
Price: £17.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Perception‘s opening moments introduce us to Cassie, the young and blind-since-birth heroine of this short story. Tormented by her recent nightmares, Perception‘s very own Max Carrados travels to a large estate in Boston, Massachusetts with a dark, malevolent history spanning decades. With her vision greatly impaired, Cassie must find her way through the darkness of the estate with nothing but her trusty cane, cellular phone and echolocation.
Hers and the players only source of vision stems from the use of echolocation, whereupon creating noise within the game’s environment allow the player the fortitude of sight for very brief periods of time. If you’ve ever seen Daredevil, no not the fantastic Netflix original but Ben Affleck’s subjectively mediocre movie you’ll have some idea of how the vision appears to the player. Though Mark Steven Johnson’s 2003 somewhat poorly received superhero action flick doesn’t use echolocation but rather sonar, an enhanced ability given to Affleck’s character Matt Murdock to aid his vision, the visual appearance is very much the same as seen in Perception.
Perception‘s narrative comes in the form of a handful of small stories that recount the misfortunes of many of the large homes previous occupants from various periods in time. With little by the way of any premise conveyed to the player prior to approaching and then entering the seemingly abandoned home, it’s hard to feel too much for Perception‘s young heroine in the early going as you feel your way through the mechanics of the game and attempt to understand the difficulties that come from not being able to see the complete picture.
Armed with only her cane and cell phone, Cassie ignores her unanswered knocks on the front door of the game’s mysterious setting, Echo Bluff and proceeds to pass through to the interior of the home. Blissfully unaware of the danger she has willingly placed herself in, the young girl begins to tap her cane on the surface of the floor, which for a few seconds illuminates her surroundings, allowing her the briefest of lights in the mists of darkness. For a period of time Perception allows the player feel utterly safe, to tap Cassie’s cane of free will in order to navigate the many rooms and corridors of Echo Bluff, but the safety of the cane soon becomes the trigger that frequently alerts the dark force lurking within the large estate.
Echo Bluff is no safe haven, far from it. Instead, this large maze of an estate harbours a malevolence, an evil that has presided over it for many centuries. Overuse of Cassie’s cane to light up the dark unknowingly disturbs and awakens a frightening entity known as the ‘Presence’ which is quickly drawn out of shadows by the creation of too much noise, like a warning beacon calling out to it. Fleeting glimpses of sight must now be carefully balanced to avoid arousing the suspicions of the Presence, who carries with it the ability to kill Cassie with a single touch, making it what should be a force to be reckoned with throughout proceedings and something you’ll want to avoid, but becomes an easier feature than it probably should have been.
As harrowing as Perception‘s main monster is, Echo Bluff’s dark entity along with the later collection of gun-toting dolls pose little threat to Cassie as she makes her way through what is decidedly a very short debut game. In truth, it’s not overly difficult to avoid either enemy despite the severe lack of sight. Gas pipes hiss, fireplaces roar and music bellows from speakers; all of which enable the fragile young girl extra sight on her path, more so, points of passage such as doors glow green to assist the player from one room to another. Furthermore, Cassie can dissuade the attentions of the Presence by simply hiding in one of the many safe spots around the house such as inside a bathtub or under a bed or behind a curtain; a cliched manoeuvre but a necessary one to avoid death.
As each chapter unfolds the player will learn more of Echo Bluff’s tragic and troubled past but there is more to Perception then the nervous or angered ramblings of Cassie as she either casually walks or sprints her way around the layout of the house. Laid out throughout Echo Bluff players will come across cassette players that can be played to help piece together the story of Perception while objects can be picked up that allow the player a form of telepathic connection that nicely bridges moments of the past.
Additionally, items can be scanned using Cassie’s phone. Using the cellular phone, the protagonist can access a text-to-speech app following the snap of a picture to aid the player in deciphering whatever might be written on a particular object, the phone can even connect directly to a helpline where a random civilian is on hand to describe what Cassie cannot see herself. The items at the player’s disposal are a nice addition to the gameplay and help to paint a better picture of Cassie’s surroundings that alleviates the characters loss of sight slightly.
The trouble with Perception is that despite its great ideas you can quickly forget that you are in control of a blind person. Working a way to pace out taps of Cassie’s cane to avoid the Presence with ease or the overabundance of areas that light up your way leave you only partially in the dark. Rather than rely on the sound of your cane as a form of comfort and source of light, it can all too easily be used to quickly traverse what should be a horrific experience where vision should border on the bare minimum, which in turn strips away most of the fear the game should possess. Not just that, Cassie at times acts as though she has perfect vision. At times the character will describe things to the player that she shouldn’t otherwise be able to see unless she has 20/20 vision, which can mislead the player somewhat.
As a concept Perception certainly has some fantastic ideas, however, its delivery of those ideas sadly lets it down. Although it tells a haunting selection of short stories well, what should be a tense and drawn-out out affair with the player constantly on tenterhooks in and a game of cat and mouse with an evil entity can easily be manipulated into a casual stroll through a largely unterrifying estate. While it boasts some good gameplay elements such as Cassie’s speech-to-text app, puzzles and echolocation, the wealth of hand-holding quickly diminishes any real challenge the game might have had. That aside, credit must go to Deep End Games for the developer’s approach and research of the subject matter and for some, Perception will be a nice addition to their library of games and is worth a look, pardon the pun.