Review by Leigh
The game market can be a little stagnant when it comes to creativity and original concepts so when I saw Perception advertised as a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2015 I was both excited and upset. Excited, because it was a first person psychological horror where you play the role of a blind woman. Genius! Upset, because I SWEAR I had a similar idea only a year prior to Perception‘s Kickstarter, only not as refined and without its unique flare. The second point is the only reason I didn’t back a digital copy. Yeah, I’m an irrational and jealous child at heart, but it’s not like I was going to make a game out of it …
After Irrational Games’ demise, Bill Gardner (BioShock, BioShock Infinite) decided to launch his own company, The Deep End Games. Bill’s wife Amanda Gardner wrote the story and dialogue for Perception, and he also pulled some talented games makers onto the project such as Kirk Bezio and Ben Johnson (Johnson was also a level designer from the original Dead Space). It’s an all star work force that made many a Kickstarter investor feel like they made a sound purchase.
You are Cassie, a blind woman, who is inexplicably drawn to a haunted country house in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Cassie sees by means of echolocation, such as tapping a cane or listening to the sound of their own footsteps to detect physical objects in her surroundings. This is represented visually onscreen as object outlines that emerge then fade to black. Other objects that create noise also assist in traversing your way through the house, such as the dripping of a tap, the ticking of a clock or <shudder> the giggling of a possessed doll. Cassie has a strong connection to the supernatural where she can hear as well as see ghosts of the past and present. You also have a telephone with a text-to-audio “friendly eyes” app to assist observing your surroundings and read notes. Plus there’s some rockin’ tunes for when you get bored.
The game audio and sound effects are great. The story is okay, if a little lacklustre, but the concept is incredible … so where does it go wrong?
At the beginning you’ll be frantically banging your cane on every object you find to navigate your ever changing surroundings until some blatant text appears reading, “The house is listening.” From there on, if the player starts swinging their cane around whimsically, Cassie can be hunted by a ghost who will quickly murder her unless she finds a place to hide such as under a bed, behind a curtain or in a chest. When the game states, “The house is no longer listening.” then you know it’s time to start swinging that cane around freely. This actually breaks the immersion considerably. Another approach to inform players of danger could be used such as a change in music or even the colour scheme of the echolocation.
At times the game feels like a walking sim with a couple of simple puzzles tacked on and a roaming ghost. The beginning of this game was terrifying. Opening the front door and peering into pitch black darkness made me feel incredibly uneasy. After I became accustomed to the dark and knew that I was basically invulnerable until the game told me I could potentially die it all seemed to fall flat on its face. The ever changing surroundings also retracted from the immersion. I felt I was being drawn further and further away from a vulnerable blind woman trapped in a haunted house and instead into some kind of spirit walker where ghosts were screeching their stories at me every twelve seconds (not to mention Cassie herself blabbering away for one reason or another). Customizable options help alleviate some of these issues, but they fall short of addressing the major problems.
I envisioned a different game. A game where ghosts were far and few in between. An investigative, supernatural, psychological horror where the player would slowly unravel the mysteries of the house until a physical or psychic presence started actively hunting the player.
I’d really love to see The Deep End Games give this another try. A little bit of rework and this game could be something special instead of a jittering mess … much like this review.
So, now … puns.
I saw this game through to the very end as I don’t usually turn a blind eye to horror games. Perception had some incredible ideas but the project seemed to have lost its vision half way through its creation and couldn’t find its way back. A game I won’t look back on until the developers look at what works and what doesn’t, then fix it accordingly.
Perception is available on Switch, PS4, XB1, PC and Steam. To find out more about the latest reviews, stories and other cool things in the world of games, like us on Facebook. And remember – if you’re game, we’ll play!