Developer “The Deep End Games” might be a new indie studio, but it’s made up of some pretty talented developers. Founded by married couple Amanda and Bill, developers at Deep End Games have worked on a couple of fantastic games. With credits in Bioshock, Dead Space, and more, I don’t doubt their ability to craft an excellent story. Their first outing, Perception, follows the story of a young blind girl named Cassie. After suffering from a recurring nightmare about a foreboding mansion, she decides to set off to explore it. Perception has some interesting gameplay mechanics, but does it truly frighten and excite?
A Stick to See
Perception is very interesting right from the start, and this is entirely due to the game’s sight mechanics. Since our protagonist Cassie is blind, navigating a complex mansion isn’t the easiest thing for her. Using her cane to “echo locate”, you tap a button to briefly see the area around you. The majority of the game is seen through this highlighted blue color, which does get a bit stale after a while.
However, gameplay isn’t the forefront of Perception, as it falls more in line with a walking simulator like Gone Home, rather than something like Layers of Fear. The narrative wastes no time getting Cassie into the house, and from thereon out, it’s a game of exploration. Cassie quips and comments as you explore the area, but you’ll mostly be finding collectibles and audio logs to find out more.
Stories of the Supernatural
The narrative of Perception starts off well. As you explore, you’ll slowly learn about the house’s previous inhabitants. Beyond the collectibles, you’ll witness ghostly apparitions replaying their past lives, stuck in memory loops. Ghosts and entities pop up quite often, usually supplying little more than a jump scare. The game is broken up into four chapters, each chapter representing a different time period in the house’s history. As you go through each chapter, the story becomes a bit more convoluted and harder to follow. By Chapter 4, I found myself looking around the environment less and less, favoring the path towards completion over new information. It starts out interesting enough, with sprinkles of mysticism and the like. However, it eventually becomes a bit dull as the atmosphere and creepiness generally subsides.
Sounds Meant to Scare
Since the visuals are usually a combination of shadowy blues (sometimes yellow and red, depending on if an enemy is nearby), a lot of pressure is put on sound design. Luckily, Perception has a great handle on audio, and does a good job creating a solid atmosphere. There’s an attention to detail that is apparent once you start smacking your cane around, as each surface tapped makes a unique noise. It was interesting for me to completely turn away and try to navigate only by sound queues. Of course this was difficult, but I was able to figure out when I was in front of walls, on a stone path, or smacking glass cups off their shelves.
Additionally, the ambient noises accent a decent musical score. Old houses creak and groan, that’s pretty much objective fact. However, Perception totally understands how to use those creaks and groans to instill doubt. While traversing the eerie mansion, there was more than a few times the sound design caused me to halt. Was that a human groan, or the sound of a door slowly shutting? Did I just hear a child giggle? Questions like these were common, and did a good job ensuring the game was tense despite its lack of visual clarity.
Unfortunately, I had to turn down my volume (and miss out on other moments like these) because the cane sound was so damn loud. There’s even a toggle in the options to lower it, but for some reason, Perception would’ve let me even highlight the option. So there I was, stuck with a cane that was 3 times louder than all the other sounds. Considering you need to continuously use the cane to navigate (and thus, hear the sound effects), it’s a pretty big issue. It won’t be for you; hopefully they will have fixed that issue soon.
I’m going to be honest, Perception stopped being scary for me around Chapter 2. This is both due to the game, and due to some technical issues as well. At base value, shadowy outlines aren’t going to be very scary after 4 hours of them. Jump scares get less effective as you expect them more and more, and the roaming enemy known as “The Presence” does little to scare. In fact, I often found myself more annoyed than scared when “The Presence” showed up. Before long, I would run directly at the entity, choosing death over evasion. That’s because there’s no load times to wait through, checkpoints are decent, and “The Presence” doesn’t have a ton of scripted appearances.
Around Chapter 3, I actually laughed out loud at a supposed “scare”. I won’t ruin it for you, but as the scenarios got more and more ridiculous, I found myself getting more detached from the experience. For instance, dolls can be creepy, we can all agree on that. Little dolls that fly around on train tracks, occasionally trash talking a blind girl? Absolutely hilarious.
Pathfinding and Path Falling
I recently played Kholat, a game that I thought needed better player direction. Perception would’ve suffered the same criticism, but has a very handy feature to keep you from getting lost. As the house changes around you and things get more complex, it’s not unusual to find yourself turned around. Luckily, pressing a singular button points you towards a highlighted door or item needed to progress. Using this feature doesn’t show you a straight line to your objective, but rather its general location (finding out how to get there is up to you).
Unfortunately, that kind of stuff doesn’t help you when you fall through the floor four or five times. When I say “fall through the floor”, I don’t mean into the basement. I mean underneath the entire game’s layout. This happened multiple times, as well as occasional glitches that forced my to reset the software. Sometimes triggers didn’t activate, causing me to wander around searching for progression that wasn’t there. Once, my death didn’t trigger a checkpoint reload, leaving me staring at glowing green hands unable to quit to the main menu.
As I got towards the end of the game, the entire thing fell apart. I entered the final chapter, except it was half loaded. Doors and textures were missing, there were large sections of the map that weren’t there (this caused you to fall under the game), and more. I couldn’t progress further, due to there being one save slot (stop doing this, it only causes game breaking bugs to be even more unforgiving). However, Perception is only a 4-6 hour game (depending on how much you explore), so a forced restart isn’t as terrible as a 30 hour game like The Surge.
The Bottom Line on Perception
Perception has a great core mechanic. The idea of exploring your surroundings with echolocation is awesome, and I enjoyed the unique feel of it. Additionally, the game does a good job highlighting realistic tools that the blind use to help them. From text-to-speech programs and video streaming mobile apps, Perception has a few nods towards utility tech. The sound design is impressive, although the voice acting is mediocre. It’s a mixed bag, but Perception is definitely unique.
The smart mechanics and sound design are crippled by issues with the game, from falling through the floor to an excessively loud cane. The narrative starts off interesting, and quickly turns dull. The scares start off effective, and eventually become comedic. When there’s not much besides exploration and audio-log collection, a strong narrative with good scares is necessary to keep the tensions high. That’s just not here.
Fans of indie horror will undoubtedly enjoy Perception for its unique style of navigation, and some might connect with the story they are trying to tell. At the best, Perception is a brief adventure through a somewhat interesting environment, with a good atmosphere to boot. At it’s worse, Perception is a glitchy mess that fails to hold your attention or scare you. Some people might really like Perception, it just didn’t do much for me.