by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
Dime a dozen
Though first person horror games are a dime a dozen these days, Perception stands out through using blindness as its central hook both graphically and visually. And while it does create interesting moments through the use of visuals and strong audio design, it cannot create a game that is either scary or interesting to interact with.
Developed by The Deep End Games, whose developers previously worked on Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, Perception places you in the role of Cassie, a young blind woman who is exploring a haunted mansion in Massachusetts. In order to do this, Cassie relies on a form of echolocation to see her surroundings. By tapping her cane, Cassie can ‘see’ the outlines of objects and walls in order to navigate the mansion.
The outlines themselves mostly appear in a blueish-white color, with the rest of your vision enshrouded in pitch black darkness, which is used to signify blindness in game. Areas are also revealed through ambient noises in the environment, such as the wind blowing through an open window or a broken radiator screeching in a room. If you do get turned around and lose your way, Cassie also has access to a convenient ability that pinpoints her to where the next objective lies.
As interesting of a mechanic as echolocation is, its use is ultimately more of a visual choice than a gameplay one. You will continually tap the cane in order to navigate the house, but it serves little purpose beyond that. Though the visual style does make it stand out, from a gameplay perspective there is nothing separating it from other walk-and-talk games. It is a gimmick, and not a particularly well utilized one at that.
As a result, Perception comes across as though you are completing a list of tasks rather than uncovering a mystery. You can always find out where your next objective is, and there’s no tension when you get lost in the sprawling mansion.
This could be more forgivable if the narrative was able to sink its teeth into you, but it does not. The reason the plot is at all happening is because Cassie had dreamed about a mansion and then travels to that mansion when she finds out it exists. That is ultimately a rather poor premise for the story, and it makes her subsequent reactions to the events that happen in the house lack impact and feel confusing.
Which is a shame, because the audio logs that you find throughout the house that tell the stories of the people and families that used to live there are generally well acted. Yet that too is only average, as the tales that you hear from the house's former inhabitants rely on horror tropes that are overused and lacking in actual horror. The use of evil dolls in one tale stands out in particular, and is ultimately more ridiculous than scary.
Horror, without the horror
Looking back, while I was at times unsettled and creeped out while exploring the mansion, I was never really scared. Even The Presence, a malevolent entity who chases after you if you make too much noise, is more of an annoyance than anything else, as you merely have to hide in a cupboard or duck under a bed for a short time before continuing on your merry way. I never felt threatened by the events and situations I encountered, creating an experience that felt like a chore to play.
Were it not for the use of echolocation, Perception would be indistinguishable from the hordes of horror games that have seemingly flooded the market in recent memory. But that central mechanic fails to create an impact in the gameplay, making Perception a well constructed game that lacks in scares and surprises.
Unique visual style, strong audio design
Bland protagonist, gameplay mechanics, not very scary