Reviewed on: PC. Copy supplied by publisher.
“Run-n-hide” horror games are nothing new, nor are they in short supply these days. The success of indie games such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent and the Outlast franchise showed that powerlessness against a formidable foe can certainly get the heart pumping, and thus a genre was born.
But instead of being just another face in the spooky crowd, Perception popped up to offer an interesting twist: its main character is blind. The premise certainly caught a lot of people’s attention, including yours truly, as simulating how a person without sight might perceive their environment sounded like a very unique, and potentially terrifying, experience.
Having now played through Perception’s short campaign, I can safely say that yes, its simulation of blindness was unique and engaging. Unfortunately, the same can’t really be said for any other aspect of the game.
Developed by The Deep End Games, a small team featuring ex-developers from games such as Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, Perception puts players in the shoes of Cassie, a blind woman travelling alone to an abandoned mansion in Massachusetts. She has been having recurring nightmares that have drawn her to the isolated location, determined to discover what mysteries lie within. Inside she encounters ghostly echos from past occupants, and perhaps their stories are the key to understanding Cassie’s own troubles. Unfortunately for her, however, there is a sinister presence lurking in the house, stalking Cassie and hell bent on stopping her quest for answers.
Players navigate the mansion using echolocation, represented in-game by a blue glow illuminating anything sound touches, Ben Affleck’s Daredevil style. Cassie’s footsteps reveal her immediate surroundings, whereas banging her stick on the ground can briefly present a larger area. On top of this, other sources of sound such as speakers or rushing winds can highlight the environment at a distance. She can use her phone to take photos of documents or objects and have apps either dictate them or ring a community interpreter describe them to her. It’s a very clever and effective mechanic to allow a seeing person to experience being blind, while also giving Perception a very unique art style.
I very quickly found myself learning to remember my way around the mansion by feel rather than sight, recognising landmarks (helped by the fact they are highlighted in green, signifying Cassie’s recollection of them too), recalling the number of steps I’d taken and how far I turned in any given direction. So my hat goes off to the developers, I feel like they successfully put me in a blind person’s shoes. However, in conjunction with the rest of the game, this mechanic actually works against it.
Many of you might be wondering, given banging Cassie’s stick can show off larger chunks of the environment, why don’t you just keep banging it all the time and have a much clearer view of your surroundings? The answer is because making too much noise might attract “The Entity”, the stalking presence I mentioned earlier. Should you bang your stick too often, the roar of The Entity bellows throughout the house and that means it’s time to find a cupboard or chest to hide in. But rather than this becoming a thrilling encounter, really it’s more of an inconvenience because you can just hide in the nearest location and wait for The Entity to leave. And I don’t mean leave as in move to another room and keep searching, I mean it actually leaves, never to appear again unless you make too much noise again or see it in the few scripted moments it appears.
On top of that, there’s no consistency to how much noise will make The Entity appear, or whether it will at all. There are areas of the house where you can whack away at the ground as much as you like without so much as a peep from your pursuer, and others where each tap will prompt its angry warnings, with some of these areas being separated by mere rooms. This, combined with my learning to navigate quite well by feel and footsteps alone, meant I pretty much never encountered The Entity much at all across Perception’s four-hour story, and whenever I did it was rather toothless.
So really Perception feels more like a jump scare filled walking simulator than a run-n-hide horror game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in principle. I like walking simulators, as I’ve said in the past, so long as they have an engaging story fuelling their action-less, exploration based narrative. Perception, sadly, fails in this area.
Ignoring the uniqueness of its protagonist being blind, Perception’s premise is about as horror movie generic as you can get. Person has nightmares about a thing, feels compelled to confront that thing, thing turns out to be a haunted house. And that’s fine, it’s a common horror plot-line for a reason, but in this case it sorely lacks a lot of clarity and context. For example, Cassie’s motivations are incredibly weak and poorly explained. I couldn’t tell you what her nightmares were, or why they were so compelling and what she wanted to achieve by going to the mansion. Upon encountering her first ghost, Cassie is oddly calm/excited rather than afraid, so was she expecting to find ghosts? I had no idea, but hoped the rest of the story would bring further clarification. Spoilers, it didn’t.
The ghosts she encounters recount their stories to her via memories heard by inspecting objects, with Cassie getting incredibly invested in each one despite her acknowledgement she has no clue why she is even there listening to them. At one point early on she actually exclaims: “What is the point of any of this?!” My immediate response was “I’m right there with you, Cass.” The narrative confusion continues from there, with Cassie saying, upon discovering the first ghost is dead (shock horror), “I thought I was meant to save them,” with there being no prior inclination as to why she would have thought that in the first place. And she certainly doesn’t come to much of an understanding by the end, delivering this golden line while I was scratching my head in perplexedly: “I don’t fully know what’s going on,” before stating her final objective.
So Cassie seems to be incredibly invested in the stories of these ghosts she admits to knowing almost nothing about, and we as players are expected to do the same. I won’t sugarcoat it, that’s not great storytelling.
It’s disappointing to see Perception fall so flat because by all accounts the game was a labour of love by the developers to bring something unique to the world of horror. And as far as its visual style and central mechanic goes, it certainly did achieve that. But the sad reality is its toothless villain and incomprehensible story took away any fascination I had and replaced it with confusion, tedium and a general lack of fun. Striving to do something new always comes with inherent risks, and unfortunately in Perception’s case it didn’t pay off.