Initial Release 30 May 2017
It was always about the house… the house in her dreams. Despite being born visually impaired, she saw it so clearly and vividly. Now she takes the chance to find out what it means, fight through the darkness and solve the mystery.
“Based on a True Story”
While the pursuit of representation is a very noble idea in the realm of video games, Perception struggles to break ground and maintain a steady balance of what it tries to achieve.
Developed by The Deep End, a team consisting of ‘veteran developers’ of Bioshock fame, Perception is a title that experiments with an idea that’s unique at first glance. Its main protagonist Cassie is visually impaired, and heavily relies upon the use of echolocation with the help of her cane. Thus the majority of the game is set in a darkened world only shaped by the ambiguous sounds presented to Cassie, while literal unseen forces lurk in each and every corner looking for moments of vulnerability.
Fear of the unknown, mystery of the unseen, and the struggle through a labyrinth should’ve been more than enough to set up a strong entry to the horror-adventure genre. While this was quite evidently hoped for during the game’s early stages, it ultimately fails to deliver anything beyond underwhelming and cliché. While the game play sticks to the staple of modern horror/thrillers, the presentation is both abrupt and uncaring.
The narrative begins by giving a glimpse of what Cassie’s character is meant to be like. Strong and independent, she sees the world far greater and braver than any of those around her. While this establishment does set up the character as a model of empowerment, the main story puts her through moments of questionable action and complete recklessness. The exposition from her history to her fascination with the ‘house in her dreams’ is done quite briefly, and thus the majority of engagement and depth is lost from the very beginning.
The mechanics presented in the game are quite simple and straightforward. Players are urged to stomp her cane and make use of her tools in order to get the lay of the land, while navigation is just as simple as any other game that makes use of the first person perspective. While the main aim was to both achieve a sense of realism and provide a unique tool to further imply helplessness, echolocation quickly becomes a chore as you progress through the game. Not only does it become exhaustive and distracting through its free and unlimited use, it also becomes a liability when the enemies come out to play.
In that regard, tension in the game is particularly lacklustre. Scripted jump-scares that carry no build up lead to plenty of confusing and disorienting moments, while the enemies themselves are nothing more than creatures you should actively avoid out of frustration rather than fear. Though their appearance is reliant on the amount of noise you make, they mostly appear during some of the game’s more predictable moments.
Despite these problematic elements, Cassie is arguably a likeable character. As the game let’s you choose between a silent play-through or a ‘Chattie Cassie‘, her character is rich with a colourful personality and a can do attitude. While fear sets itself within her as she is chased and hunted by these unseen forces, she takes these moments with a grain of salt and adds a few clever quips wherever she sees fit. This however adds more to the question of whether the game should be considered a horror to begin with, as her development is more closely focused towards unravelling the mystery and drama behind the house.
Her desire to be independent and capable also ends up being more annoying than inspiring in terms of the story. Much like the one character in the slasher movie who could’ve avoided death by ‘not going in there’, she too suffers from this very same fault. While help is extended to her consistently throughout the game, she lets her pride take control and openly puts herself in harm’s way.
While the actual idea behind Perception is both unique and captivating, the execution is disappointing to say the least. The presentation is by far its greatest downfall, as it struggles to engage and intrigue its audience with a glossed-over and cliché story. While the gameplay hardly had any issues to consider, perhaps limiting resources and avoiding linearity could’ve helped add some tension and fear factor along the way.