Survival horror is a favorite genre of mine. I’ve always enjoyed good tension and feeling helpless in a video game (if that doesn’t sound weird). In my opinion, a good horror game needs to make the player defenseless, so the stakes feel even higher when approaching a each situation. A sort of disadvantage I guess I could say, the most common one is not being much a fighter, forcing the player to rely on hiding and stealth. Indie developer The Deep End Games have been crafting another horror title which handles this genre extremely well, and this game is called Perception.
Perception’s concept alone is enough to get someone interested, as players take on a role of a blind woman who is exploring her old house. Relying on using echolocation to find her way around. The Deep End Games have not been shy about letting us know who was part of their team. Some of the team consists of developers that worked on games such as Dead Space and BioShock. So right off the bat, I had already checked “atmosphere” off my list for things I wanted from it. Needless to say, as a fan of both of these titles and the genre, I was very much looking forward to playing Perception at PAX East.
The demo seemed to start off just as the game may start off in the finished product. Main protagonist Cassie sets out to explore her old childhood home in order to investigate her past. Unfortunately for her, the house seems to haunted by an unseen force known as The Presence. In terms of the narrative, the demo was very vague of course. I was only able to get glimpses of certain revelations Cassie will discover. What thing that did surprise me in a game like this is how likeable and well voice-acted Cassie was. Her commentary on each situation and the uncertainty in her tone, (even though she’s very confident) made me actually care about her journey. Due to my empathy towards the character, I actually wanted to set out and find the optional audio recordings that add more context to the story.
Overall, the entirety of the demo was mainly focused on letting players experience the tension and atmosphere that the developers worked so hard to perfect. I must say, it looks like they nailed it. It goes without saying that this is a game that should be fully experienced with any sort of gaming headphones. Once I entered the house as Cassie, I was immersed in seconds due to the uncomfortable silence Perception pulls off perfectly. I felt the eerie sense of something extremely wrong in the house, and part of me was like “nope, I’m out of here!” While traversing the house, I could tell this is a title that does not hold the player’s hand. As well it shouldn’t. While the game does give the player a general sense of direction, it’s really all up the player to figure out their way.
The art style of the game works well with the exploration aspect. The dark environments paint a dreadful aesthetic from the get-go. As Cassie is blind, her echolocation is her only means of sight. One thing I was actually worried about was how fun or consistent it would feel to use the echolocation mechanic. While an original idea on paper, I did have my doubts about playing a game in mostly darkness, but I was proven wrong once I started feeling in full control of Cassie. The mechanic is a wonderful example of a risk/reward system. Cassie can hit a wall or the floor to get a good enough but brief view of the environment in front of her. Due to the vibrations that carry from hitting the ground, Cassie is able to get a few seconds of sight, but must act quickly to find her way. While creating sound does give sight to the player, it also attracts the unseen forces trying to find Cassie. While patience is required in any survival horror video game, quick thinking on the fly is also needed for Perception.
As stated before, the use of echolocation handles very well not just with Cassie, but with the entire house. Any sort of sound that is already in the house or any unintentional sound created by the player will immediately give sight. I had accidentally knocked over a lamp on a nightstand trying to find my way and the sound was a little loud for comfort, but I was happy to see a good view of the environment. The idea of not wanting to create noise to be stealthy, but yet requiring sound to find my way makes for one intense horror video game.
While speaking with some of Deep End Games team, I could see how passionate they were about their new game. It’s clear they know exactly what they are doing when it comes to the horror genre. The originality of the echolocation concept is something that can’t be ignored. As I played the demo, I asked myself what I wanted once the game is finally released. The demo had already shown me that they perfectly executed the sense of dread and tension the team is known for, and it didn’t come as a surprise to me as well. What I want most for this title is nice cohesive narrative about Cassie’s past, as I had already gotten attached to her in my 20-30 minutes of playing as her. A great narrative only works if the characters are well-established, otherwise I could care less what twists and turn happen if they don’t affect anyone I care about or sympathize with. As Cassie seems to be a likeable and well-rounded protagonist, I’d say Perception might be that new special horror game players have always wanted. One that is not only atmospheric, but has a narrative worth experiencing.