Developer: The Deep End Games
Genre: Adventure, Horror
Official Site: The Deep End Games
Release Date: May 30, 2017 (PC), June 6, 2017 (Xbox One, PS4)
Where To Buy It: Retail, XBox Games Store, PlayStation Store, Steam
I’ll admit I am not one for ghost stories. The thought of ghouls haunting a home and tormenting the living is typically too far fetched for my taste. I ‘like my scares to be firmly rooted in the zombie and/or psychotic killer vein. So I brought a bit of skepticism to my encounter with Perception, a game that takes place in a house that has some serious specter issues. The catch to Perception though is that it is no ordinary ghost tale as Cassie, the character you control in first person view, is blind.
Our story starts with Cassie drawn to a particular house in Massachusetts. In her dreams, she sees the house but also three particular items, a rope, a ticket and an apple. Cassie is convinced that she will find the significance to these items in the house and see how they tie to her life. Unfortunately, she is a little headstrong and won’t wait for her boyfriend Serge to accompany her on the visit so her only companion is her walking stick that acts as her eyes.
The way that developer The Deep End Games portrays Cassie’s blindness is excellent and unique. My only previous experience controlling a blind character in a game was in Beyond Eyes which had the immediate surroundings of the world unfold out of blankness as the character moved. Perception replaces the cat from Beyond Eyes with a ghost trying to kill you and the dewy meadows with a seriously creepy mansion. Therefore this take on how the blindness is presented is more stifling and intense. Cassie can strike the floor or an object with her cane causing her near surroundings to illuminate in a monochromatic palette, a mechanic that is meant to represent how echolocation works for the visually impaired. After a short time, the surroundings recede back into darkness as the effects of the echo wave. This dynamic worked tremendously in conveying Cassie’s limitations in taking in her environment. The echolocation was also dynamic in that striking a metal pipe would reveal much more of Cassie’s surroundings than using the cane on a wet patch of ground. The game also has a built-in way to ensure that gamers aren’t continually hitting their cane on everything. The sound draws the mysterious ghost and too much sound will cause it to attack. Therefore gamers will have to become comfortable with pure dark and silence at times to keep the ghost away.
The game is broken into four chapters that each focus on old occupants of the mansion from years gone by. Their backstories are slowly revealed as Cassie explores the mansion and as we quickly learn, these characters all have some serious issues. For the most part, it seems that all who have lived in the mansion over the years have slowly been drawn into madness and cause, or are the recipients of some horrific experiences. I really enjoyed these stories in each chapter that took me to experiences from as recent as a couple of decades ago to several centuries in the past. Each was so brazenly creepy and parsed out at a perfect pace with found recordings and notes throughout the environment.
In addition to her cane, Cassie has a cell phone at her disposal to help her make sense of the haunted mansion. The cell has an app that will read notes for Cassie and there is another app that lets her share a photo with a sighted community that describes to the visually impaired what they see. These added tools help Cassie explore and augment what her echolocation can’t reveal. That echolocation, by the way, has a strange beauty to it. It reminded me of the old days of film pictures when you would look at the negatives. Even though you knew exactly what the picture was supposed to be, it was always slightly jarring to see a very foreign interpretation of the visual word. The sum of all this though is a gorgeous world bereft of color and contrast. Something I don’t believe I have quite seen in a game before.
The difficulty in Perception is quite minimal with the greatest dangers avoided by not making too much noise. The third chapter introduces a few new ways to die but overall the game is not terribly challenging. Oddly I appreciated this aspect in Perception that I often don’t recognize in other titles. I think it is the strength of the story and the pacing of each chapter that resulted in my priority to figure out this crazy story as opposed to my usual priority of being challenged by puzzles or enemies in the game. Perception is also not very long and should take gamers between 2 and 3 hours to finish. I was left wanting for more and feel like the game could have benefitted from even more chapters which would equal more former residents engulfed by madness.
The sound design in Perception is wonderful with plenty of credit to the actress portraying Cassie. Much of the other sound is your standard horror check boxes like creaking floorboards but I especially enjoyed the sounds of the flurry of moths that would accompany the ghost should you be a little too noisy. The ghost was pretty amazing too when you did hear from”the presence”. Its voice had a nutty digital character crossed with white noise that is the stuff of nightmares. The game could have benefitted from even more mad ghost ramblings whenever you got a little too comfortable in their home as these were often my favorite parts jolting me from my complacency.
I left my biggest qualm with Perception to the end as I feel my experience differs from most others. I encountered a game ending bug in Chapter 4 that made it impossible to finish the game. I actually spent upwards of two hours replaying this level with missing walls to the house, holes in floors that forced me to reboot the game and scripted events that triggered out of order. I had to go to YouTube to see how the final chapter and ultimately the game ended. This left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth as there is no apparent way to restart the level. As such I would have to play the game from the start to get another kick at the Chapter 4 can. A brief internet search showed that this problem has been reported by others (at least for the PC) although it seems to be very rare. As such, I didn’t let my experience with Chapter 4 cloud my overall score much.
Verdict: Perception is a vigorous mind trip that balances exploration and madness on a knife’s edge. The way Cassie’s blindness is presented in-game is beautiful and an enjoyable gameplay mechanic the adds to the sense of dread in the mansion. While the game could have been longer, the easy difficulty actually worked for the pacing of the story as gamers will devour each morsel they are fed throughout the Chapters. Unfortunately, my experience was sullied by a game ending bug but my internet research does not indicate that this is widespread.
- Great story and pacing
- Blind mechanic excellent
- Creepy in all the good ways
- Top notch voice work
- Too short
- Potential bugs in Chapter 4