Daredevil meets survival horror!
Developer: The Deep End Games
Format: Xbox One, PS4, Android, Nintendo Switch, PC (Reviewed)
Released: May 30, 2017
If I’ve learned anything from my experience with the world of PC gaming, it’s that a decent majority of the Steam store catalogue is taken up by a metric fuckton of first-person horror games. With this in mind, one must wonder just how difficult it is these days for an indie developer to make their game stand out amongst a sea of asset-flipped abandoned hospitals and insane asylums. Well this is exactly what The Deep End Games have done with Perception thanks to its ambitious and experimental take on a well-tread genre.
You’re placed into the sensible shoes of Cassie, a young woman who has travelled to Massachusetts to find and explore the mysterious, definitely haunted mansion from her dreams. And while I’m sure the haunted mansion setting sounds rather “ho-hum” for many horror veterans, there’s one small catch as to how you’ll be exploring this mansion, which also serves as the game’s central premise. Cassie is blind, so the player’s natural view is complete darkness.
Thankfully, Cassie is still able to see the world around her in some form thanks to echolocation, which briefly illuminates her surroundings in a Daredevil-esque faint blue light. This is primarily done by tapping Cassie’s cane on the ground, which will give players a short and detailed picture of their current location. Even other sounds such as crackling fireplaces, hissing radiators, and even Cassie’s own footsteps will slightly illuminate the environment.
And although the game’s sound design is a little on the buggy side, at times showing light from objects that clearly aren’t making any noise, this mechanic makes for a surprisingly impressive visual experience. I even loved the additional little details that The Deep End put into portraying how a blind person would deal with common first-person horror game tasks. For example, since Cassie can’t read the many spooky documents laying around the mansion, she instead uses a text-to-voice function on her phone to read them out.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take too long before I realised that, beyond its unique aesthetics, Perception doesn’t have much else to offer. Gameplay-wise, the only thing you’ll be doing is walking from objective to objective by using Cassie’s unexplained “sixth sense” ability to see where you need to go to next as you listen to the various audio logs dotted around the house. Sometimes something spooky might happen on the way, or you’ll have to find a code to unlock a door blocking your forward path. But beyond that, the game feels more akin to a walking simulator than any sort of horror experience.
Don’t get me wrong, Perception certainly tries its best to offer some sort of horror element. The biggest threat players will need to deal with is “The Entity”, a creepy hooded figure who will appear if you make too much noise from continuously tapping Cassie’s cane on the ground. When you first encounter him, he does give off a genuine sense of danger, repeating Cassie’s dialogue with a disturbing static buzz as he lumbers menacingly towards you.
With this mechanic in mind, I expected this encounter would finally break the plodding “walk-em-up” gameplay and kick off a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase, similar to Alien: Isolation. But after this first encounter, there was only a handful of scripted moments that I ended up running into him again. And even then, he was easily evaded by simply jumping into a clearly highlighted hidey-hole and waiting until he went away again, ultimately turning the game’s only antagonistic force into an inconvenience rather than anything remotely scary.
The story isn’t all that special either. Beyond acting as an observer to a small anthology of mediocre horror stories that take place during various time periods, Cassie has no direct involvement with the plot until the very end of the game. As a result, the plot gives off about the same emotional investment as a shabbily constructed ghost train. Sure, there’s creepy things going on, but they don’t pose any sort of direct danger to Cassie. And without that sense of involvement, it just felt like I was killing time for a few hours until the game finally noticed I was there and asked me to join in.
Despite featuring a blind protagonist, Perception is a game that’s all about visual presentation. It’s obvious that The Deep End have poured a lot of time and love into presenting as believable a portrayal of blindness that one can from a first-person perspective. But while it’s impressive to look at, there’s nothing all that interesting to latch onto when it comes to the game’s gameplay and story. Which unfortunately makes the game’s most notable mechanic feel more like an eye-catching aesthetic gimmick than anything of substantive value.
An impressive looking walking simulator that either tries too hard or not hard enough to be a horror game.
Writer: Tristan Venables
Editor: Joseph Diskett