by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
What you can’t see
The best horror games know that sometimes it’s not what you can see that scares you, but what you can’t see that is much more terrifying. In Perception, a first-person horror game by The Deep End Games, you are blind, leaving much to your imagination.
Perception places you in control of Cassie, a young blind woman who is exploring a seemingly abandoned mansion outside of Boston. Cassie has been having nightmares related to the location, and she sets out to discover the cause behind her night terrors. As a general guideline, exploring abandoned mansions is probably a bad idea, doubly so if you happen to be blind. I got the chance to play through the first 30 minutes or so of the game at PAX East 2017. Based on the opening, Perception is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and unique horror games in years.
While you may be blind, you won’t be completely in the dark in Perception. Navigation is done through tapping your cane as a form of echolocation. Using echolocation is as simple as pushing a button, as it creates a blue outline around your immediate area, allowing you to see objects, walls and floors in order to properly navigate the mansion. Other noises, such as from the wind blowing in through an open window, a noisy radiator or a crackling fire also create outlines to better help explore the house or highlight important areas. Those areas also tend to be the ones that set up a story point or jump scare, so it’s best to take things slowly.
Yet there’s a downside to using echolocation to explore the house; the malevolent forces that reside within it are attracted to loud noises. These enemies cannot be properly fought, requiring you to instead hide within or behind different objects to wait them out. I spent several minutes hunched in baskets and slowly maneuvering behind larger objects, terrified that I generated enough noise to attract the attention of whatever stalked the house. To my surprise, I was informed after my demo that there were no enemies in the demo version, but the numerous visions and noises that populated the house certainly made it feel much more dangerous than it actually was.
It’s to the developer’s credit that Perception is completely unnerving throughout the demo, with plenty of scares. Brief outlines pop in and out of existence that may or may not be the enemies stalking you through the halls, leaving your imagination left to try and fill in the blanks of what is in the house. The sound design is excellent, with your cane creating a different sound depending on what kind of surface you are tapping, which also determines how loud the sound will be. A simple tap on the wooden floor will make a soft knocking sound, while tapping a metal staircase will create loud booms that echo throughout the abandoned house. That sound goes a long way towards creating terror - while you cannot clearly see what is around you, you’ll definitely be able to hear it.
Alert the supernatural
Littered throughout the mansion are audio tapes and objects which Cassie can either listen to or scan with a text-to-voice program on her phone to learn more about the history of the house and its former inhabitants. These are often located on the paths to objectives, but plenty more are found in side rooms that are optional to explore. Of course, exploring these rooms will require you to generate more noise, so it’s best to weigh whether your curiosity is worth alerting the supernatural to your presence.
As much as I am scared of playing horror games and as scared as I was during my playthrough of Perception, I want to go back in and explore the dilapidated New England mansion. The mechanics were intuitive, creating a unique atmosphere that was enthralling to play. While I don’t want to know what will lurk in the halls in the full version, I can’t wait to continue Cassie’s story and uncover the mysteries of the mansion when Perception releases later this year.