Xbox One, PS4, PC
May 30, 2017
The Deep End Games
Perception is an experimental horror game whose ideas work better conceptually than they do mechanically. Playing as blind girl Cassie, you explore a mansion from your dreams, use your Super Blind Girl powers, and attempt to avoid a hostile ghostly threat.
The game’s unique hook is that as a blind person, Cassie and therefore the player can only see via echolocation. Whacking your cane against a surface provides a temporary aura of vision and other sounds such as wind or radio static also provide an aura of vision around them. The echolocation mechanic is unique to my knowledge and in theory seemed like it would be a great mechanic that not only functions as an intriguing aesthetic but also has gameplay implications and can lead to great moments of horror. In theory, this should have happened. In reality, it did not.
Perception unfortunately was not a particularly scary experience, but what is worse is that it was just tedious. I don’t know if it was a brilliant commentary on the difficulty of living without vision or just a side effect of an unfortunate mechanic. Regardless, moving around that house in the game was monotonous. You couldn’t see, the house was a maze of doors and rooms, and the echolocation barely provided enough to facilitate your travels. If it wasn’t for Cassie’s second Super Blind Girl power, the ability to intuitively know where her next goal was, the game would have literally been a “shambling around the dark” simulator.
To make matters worse, the game had an enemy who would hear Cassie’s cane whacks and track her down. This meant that your only tool for vision also lead to your demise. Now I know what some of you may be thinking. You may be thinking that all of this sounds like amazing game design. A horror game with limited vision, a visual aide mechanic with a direct and horrific trade-off, and a game where you can experience and sympathise with the struggles of someone less fortunate. But as I said earlier, it may sound great in theory, but is less than great in execution. Moving through that maze of a house, trying to reach a point where the game progresses, backtracking and getting lost in the same rooms, all to be killed by a spirit and having to start again because you got so frustrated by lack of sight you decided to whack your cane… ugh.
Frustration and tedium aside, the game looked great and I’ll give it credit for its creativity in design and style. The blue hues and pulsating aura of vision, the way objects weren’t fully visualised with small details unseeable by Cassie – it was pretty impressive. I also still like the idea of the echolocation mechanic and really hope this game inspires others to work harder to make the concept work better.
The house at times also shifted and the same rooms you had previously visited had now changed to more closely resemble a war zone or a carnival, for instance. These were often great moments in the game with the shift in style not only functioning as a great way to break up the sameness of the house, but also facilitate storytelling sequences and replicate the surroundings certain ghostly characters inhabited.
“We have reached the real crux of Perception’s issues. If you don’t find the game scary, all you are left with is the tedious monotony of trying to move around that house”
The game had moments of scripted horror outside of the ‘getting hunted by a spirit’ sequences. Typically involving either a ghost or an owl, the game liked to have things pop into your direct line of sight and quickly disappear. Now I’m completely aware that I can be a difficult person to scare, and I’m also aware that I’ve been playing a lot of horror games recently which may desensitise me a bit. But these jump scares absolutely did nothing for me. In fact, there were moments when a little ghost girl would pop into my vision and immediately vanish that got me closer to laughter than fear.
I think because of this we have reached the real crux of Perception’s issues. If you don’t find the game scary, all you are left with is the tedious monotony of trying to move around that house. And no matter how many things it does well – the visuals, the uniqueness, the fantastic sequences where the house shifts to facilitate a new style – it always falls short of what you want it to be.
- Unique and creative design
- Fantastic visual style
- Great moments where the house shifts to incorporate a new theme
- Not scary
- Tedious, slow and monotonous progression
- Frustrating game mechanics
- Could have done more to make the player sympathise with Cassie
What Perception does best is create a template for what could be a great game. I can’t help but imagine a parallel universe where Perception releases and blows everyone away with its ability to not only instill fear, but to thrust a player into the perspective of a blind person and make it feel real. I want a game where instead of silly appearing ghosts, the blind character creates horrific imagery in her own mind because of her fear and because of her inability to perceive what that potentially harmless shape in front of her actually is. I want to feel the same fear, isolation and helplessness that must come from losing your sight, not sprint around a haunted house going from one ‘goal’ to the next.