Back in 2015, developer The Deep End Games started a Kickstarter for an indie project known as Perception with one of the mains selling points being that the team had members who originally worked on critically acclaimed games such as Dead Space and BioShock. Perception’s concept alone was enough to grab me once I saw the team behind it. Perception puts players in control of a blind woman, who must use her echolocation ability to traverse a haunted house. In theory, this concept is without a doubt something that has the potential to be truly unique. Unfortunately, actually playing the game, it sadly falls short of it’s potential.
Here’s the thing, Perception is by no means a bad game. In fact, it exceeds in many aspects. It’s narrative, for one, is the reason I kept playing. This is thanks in part to Angela Morris’s performance as main protagonist Cassie. What’s funny is that the game has an option to basically have Cassie speak rarely, but yet Cassie’s character is what drives the narrative. In Perception, Cassie visits her old home to uncover the secrets of her past and the house as well. As she’s making her discoveries, she is constantly haunted by this evil entity known only as The Presence. There are some interesting twists within the story, as well as the house itself, which I’d rather not spoil. Cassie’s sassy, yet vulnerable personality had me sympathize with her character much more. I appreciated her banter throughout the game as she reacted to her surroundings. At one point in the game, finding out these dark secrets shocked me just as much as they shocked her.
From a technical perspective, Perception is as good as I’d expected considering the team behind it. The way collision within the environment works to create sound is quite brilliant. Any sort of sound within the house will give sight to Cassie. For instance, each of Cassie’s footsteps will echo out for players to see the floor beneath her. The echolocation mechanic works well enough to be groundbreaking. The sound around the room, or even the complete silence, perfectly captures the atmosphere the team was going for. This is definitely a game that is meant to be played in the dark and with some great sounding gaming headphones. The sound travels wonderfully wherever Cassie goes. It adds a good creep factor when I can clearly hear child’s laughter from behind me or the caw of crows outside.
The game is also well polished upon release. There were the occasional frame rate drops, but these instances were rare enough to never ruin the experience. Perception boasts some impressive visuals, which shine with the unique art direction. There are only a select few colors that players will end up seeing throughout the whole playthrough. When Cassie is not moving at all, the screen is pitch black. When the echolocation kicks in, the echo travels for a certain distance and now players have a moody blue area to traverse, much like that of Daredevil’s ability in the 2003 film. There’s no doubt that this game had care put into it, it is just unfortunate that it fails on the most important aspect: being a good horror game.
Based on the aspects I have already listed, one would think Perception is great horror game. It has excellent sound design, haunting atmosphere, and some creepy visuals. Only, its in the way the game is played that has the horror fall flat. Early on in the game, the player is notified that they must hide from The Presence once it starts to chase them, however, these moments rarely ever happened during my time playing. The gimmick is that if the player makes too much noise then this will activate The Presence to start hunting down Cassie, whom she is unable to defeat. The lack of these situations cause the tension to never truly exist. Within the first hour I was scared, but after that I figured out how far and few tense situations actually occur. Rarely did I ever have an encounter in which I was truly scared for Cassie.
One other aspect that plagues some horror games out today is a dreaded word that makes some cringe when hearing it: linearity. This is Perception’s most prevalent issue and also being it’s most damaging. As stated before, there is rarely ever any tension within the game’s enemies and it doesn’t help that the game is too linear when traversing the house. Cassie has a sixth sense which lets players see within a distance what the objective is by highlighting it. This gave me no sense of dread as I never felt lost and the game was just holding my hand. On top of being linear, whenever there was truly a “scary moment,” it was always scripted. The game would tell me to find a hiding spot and those instances were about the only time I truly did need to hide. Rarely did I ever have random tension filled encounters beyond the ones that were scripted.
As stated before, Perception has some great things going for it. There’s no doubt in my mind that The Deep End Games put so much passion into this project. It just falls flat due to the fact that it isn’t that good of a horror game. As expected from the from people who worked on BioShock, it’s an excellent example of atmospheric storytelling through its haunting environment and excellent sound design. The house is just as much a character as Cassie is. Cassie’s journey through her past both disturbed and intrigued me, which is what kept me playing. It makes me wonder if whether or not being a video game was correct medium to tell this story. There’s artistic quality to be seen, but as a whole, Perception disappoints. I see potential in this game for a sequel, and that’s the beauty of video games. Developers can build a foundation in the first game and then get the feedback necessary to create the game it should have been.
Here’s to hoping The Deep End learns from their mistakes in the future and give us a truly terrifying experience.
A PS4 code was provided for the purpose of this review.