Platforms: Playstation 4 (reviewed), Windows, and Xbox One
The fear of the dark is our most primal fear. It changes the way we approach everything. Whether it’s the woods, a cave, or a simple bedroom, not being able to see affects us on a personal level. Developer The Deep End Games has taken this concept to its logical extreme with their first game, Perception, by making the player character a blind protagonist. Losing the basic ability to see is an ambitious and unique decision for a game but unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily translate to a fun experience.
You play as Cassie, the aforementioned blind character, as she travels to a home that has been haunting her dreams. To navigate you must use an echolocation like ability Cassie was taught as a child. She can get small vibrations by simply walking but by using her walking cane to hit objects in the environment she can paint a much larger picture. The sound design around this mechanic might be Perception’s greatest strength as metal rings across the home and rugs barely utter a peep. To prevent you from using this ability to your heart’s content, “The Presence” will appear when you’ve made too much noise and kill Cassie. Strangely the game gives no indication as to how much noise you can make before it appears. This leaves the player having to choose between tempting fate or trying to navigate the labyrinthine home using only footsteps to guide them. I opted for the latter and spent most of the game staring at the ground to travel the house. A side effect of that was that I missed most of the games attempts at jump scares and even if I did see them the lack of vision led to more questions of what I saw than a fear of it.
As Cassie explores the house she will be transported to different time periods and follow a trail of clues to discover what grisly fate befell each owner. To make searching as a blind person more manageable the developers gave her a “sixth sense” to highlight each goal as it becomes available. A commendable idea in theory but in practice it takes a lot of player agency away. It becomes a checklist and loses the “aha!” moments that similar games like Gone Home delivered so well. The checklist becomes even more unappealing when the rewards fail to strike a chord with the player. Most boil down to audio recordings forcing you to sit and listen until its done and you can move on to the next one. The only notable shift in mechanics is a “stealth” section in the game forcing the character to inexplicably run away from enemies with guns. It loses any sense of tension and only leads to frustration. Even the promising narrative fails to land due to strange dialogue choices for Cassie like inappropriately timed quips and an overall aloofness to go along with forgettable voice acting from the cast in general. The final section that brings all of the story together in a relatively satisfying conclusion is the high point but I found myself wishing it were in a better game.
Initially a game with an intriguing horror concept, Perception fails to deliver on all of its promise. The idea of a horror game based solely around being unable to see should be terrifying but in reality the game probably would have been better off without it. The scares fail to land thanks to an inability to see them and the incredibly basic game play mechanics left me bored, not frightened. Choices like gun toting enemies and an annoyingly aloof protagonist only further sour the experience. I wanted to like Perception but in the end I just felt like I was fumbling around in the dark.