Perception Review

Posted June 9, 2017 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Developer: The Deep End Games

Publisher: Feardemic

Release date: June 6, 2017

Available on: PC, Xbox One (reviewed), PS4

Did You Say “Abe Lincoln?”

Ghosts. Dolls. Jump scares. All the typical, expected horror tropes are well-represented in Perception but illustrated through the eyes of a blind protagonist, Cassie.

You see, Cassie is a little like Daredevil – she can visualize her surroundings through echolocation. Shrouded in shadows and darkness, the environment is displayed like sound waves with each noise projected in the house.  Pulling the Right Trigger smacks Cassie’s cane against the nearest surface resulting in a loud echo from the floor, a cushioning thud from carpet or furniture, or a cacophonous clang from the metal railings. Incidental sound effects also work to illuminate the experience. Footsteps, radios, and leaky radiators all project sound waves to help display the environment in ghostly black, white, and blue waves.

If you wanted Gone Home to be a horror game, Perception is for you. In addition to the narrative-driven gameplay, the house – Echo Bluff – even looks similar to the iconic residence from Fullbright’s award-winner. But the experience is truly scary – at least it was for me. For the best experience, Perception should be played with the lights down and the surround sound up. A good set of headphones also does the trick. I even found myself opening my eyes unusually wide to pierce the darkness. This was indicative of the unique and immersive game design but it wasn’t enough to completely win me over.

Making video games is hard. There’s no question. But I am often a little troubled when shorter, more contained experiences like Perception have game-breaking bugs or multiple instances of frames dropping. I experienced both, in addition to long initial load times, far too often.

Wandering around the house is genuinely creepy. I don’t like the dark (as it turns out), I don’t like ghosts or ghostly representations of memories, I don’t like dolls. Yet somehow, all those things are exactly what makes the game as enjoyable as it is. However, the main mechanic, the visual impairment, is a double-edged battle-axe. Perception is immediately special because of it. But at times, my adoration was dampened because I could not figure out where to go next. This isn’t a frustration about a lack of hand-holding or entirely poor level design. As with many aspects of Perception, it’s about inconsistency. Pulling on the Left Trigger empowers Cassie’s “Sixth Sense” and points to the next objective, like an x-ray (walls be damned). This is helpful most of the time but it doesn’t always point to the next objective. At times, it would skip a couple steps and I discovered I needed to do a few things before getting to the door it was telling me to. So it’s a little unreliable. Does it add to the realism? Maybe. I’ve already suspended my disbelief this far; so I don’t believe the misleading guide was purposeful. I would rather it work every time or not have it at all. These inconsistencies lead me to brand Perception as a little unpolished.

The other inconsistency is The Presence. You won’t find many “enemies” in Perception – this is not a combative experience – but The Presence is a ghostly wanderer who will devour your soul if you make too much noise. Sometimes. Even after being warned about being too loud, I tested the game to see exactly how much was too much. After an obnoxious few minutes of  smashing and banging, no Presence. Was it off gallivanting in the yard? Or haunting the Gone Home house? Fast forward a couple chapters  and Cassie’s breathing seemed to attract it.

There are closets to hide in, beds to cower under, but sometimes, you can get away with simply crouching in the middle of the room. The come-and-go nature of The Presence and the somewhat broken the hide-and-seek mechanic significantly detract from what could have been the most terrifying element of Perception. Consider how differently Alien: Isolation would feel if you could treat the Xenomorph like a T-Rex to escape.

The story progresses by finding keys, notes, and other clues to project the house’s memories to Cassie. You might be wondering, how could a blind person make use of a note? A natural and clever tool, involving a text-to-speech app on Cassie’s phone, gives an interesting take on discovering audio logs. Another app on Cassie’s phone connects her to a helpful community of visually-capable members who volunteer time to describe the photos that Cassie sends. There’s a specific example in Chapter 3 that gave me chills. As the player, I can only see what Cassie sees and when Nick, the friendly voice on the other end, receives the photo, he invokes a special kind of terror. Goodness gracious, a terrific scene.

Playing as Cassie, wondering though an empty house, I was surprised at the number of characters in Perception. The Deep End Games does a nice job to keep things interesting with four separate-but-intertwined stories taking place over the course of the game – each with its own cast of characters and voices to hear. Of course, some of the development DNA has its roots in BioShock so I couldn’t help but think of the 2007 classic when hearing some of the period-piece music and boisterous voice acting. The voice talent elevates Perception and – with only one exception, Serge – is one of the shining aspects of the experience.

Final Verdict

These are the most difficult reviews to write. Perception is a great idea executed fairly well with some stellar elements but ultimately bogged down by some significant problems. The length of time you’ll spend with Perception truly depends on how quickly you adapt to the visual impairment. There are ‘puzzles’ but nothing headache-inducing. The four chapters are digestible but certainly not all at once. Perhaps an episodic chapter release, like Life is Strange would have been more fitting for the story and to allow some extra polish in-between chapters. While I won’t besmirch Perception for what it isn’t, I will say that this four-chapter package doesn’t feel quite right.

Perception is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s a truly unique experience – I can’t say I’ve played a game as a blind person. The scares are real and the stories are interesting. But glitches, getting lost, and strange spikes in “difficulty” overshadowed my experience to the point that I wondered if I was actually having fun. A little more polish and maybe even a VR alternative would’ve go a long way to make Perception a little easier to recommend.

About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.