Left In The Dark.
Darkness reigns supreme when it comes to the horror genre. From pitch-black caverns lit only by candlelight, to dark and abandoned space stations illuminated by the glow of military tech, to navigating abandoned asylums by the glow of night vision filters, darkness is king. Perception had every right to not only embrace this often and overly used feature, to the nth degree. Instead, Perception ends up leaving players in the dark.
The Deep End Games, formed from industry veterans of games like the BioShock series, and Dead Space, had huge potential with Perception. With a resume like many of the developers presented, and the premise of embracing blindness as a core game mechanic, Perception came across as a truly unique horror experience at first glance. But instead, it wallows in shallow averageness, often missing the point.
Perception is described as, “a first-person narrative horror adventure that tells the story of Cassie, a blind heroine who uses her extraordinary hearing and razor-sharp wits to unravel the mysteries of an abandoned estate that haunts her dreams.” At first listen, Perception appears slick in ideas and presentation, right? Players must guide Cassie around the aforementioned estate, embracing her disability, and solving mysteries! Instead, Perception falls into repetitive and overused game mechanics, and falls even deeper into the darkness with a laughable narrative.
Perception has an interesting idea at its core, through the use of a blind protagonist in a first-person experience, and essentially gives Cassie echolocation skills in order to explore the abandoned estate. Essentially, Cassie has Daredevil powers. Cassie makes use of an old radio playing in another room, or a wheezing radiator on its last legs. All the while, Cassie can use her cane to tap on any surface to use her echolocation powers. While Cassie doesn’t develop her skills or have any upgrades, which does lead to a bit of boring repetition during the later parts of the approximately 4-5 hour playthrough, it is initially exhilarating when you’re first introduced to the estate.
Perception takes obvious cues from Gone Home, with Cassie arriving “home” in order to discover the truth behind a string of nightmares that she’s been having. The narrative opens with Cassie stepping onto the estate, and follows behind. While Perception and Gone Home certainly diverge into two very, very, different paths, one obviously more successful than the other. Sure, apples and oranges, but when it comes to narrative presentations of explore spooky abandoned houses, Perception becomes lackadaisical and cliché, eventually devolving into something you might catch on the Lifetime channel.
When Perception first came up on my radar, I was immediately reminded of 2015’s Beyond Eyes. The game puts you into the shoes of a young blind girl named Rae, who goes on a journey in search of her cat. While Beyond Eyes definitely had a handful of flaws, it was a game that made me truly afraid to navigate the world that was created. Beyond Eyes induced a fear of being unable to explore the world that was created, because of Rae’s disability. On the other side of the coin, even though Perception is supposed to be a horror game, I was never really terrified. Sure, there are a handful of jump scares, and “The Presence” which is a spooky entity that sometimes haunts you, but otherwise, I was underwhelmed through the majority of my time spent as Cassie.
Perception puts you into the role of Cassie, but even with her disability and the circumstances placing her on the dreadful estate, it’s often quite boring and monotonous. Perception puts you into a cycle of repetition, like many “walking-simulators” often do when they misstep. While Perception could have embraced her blindness in interesting ways that I felt Beyond Eyes did, Perception never really changes across the entire playthrough. You’re banished to look for keys and clues and attempting to find unlocked doors, trying to solve the obvious and predictable mystery of why Cassie was drawn to the estate, and the ultimate mystery of why the estate is indeed, so spooky and haunted. The narrative devolves into predictability and laughter, with the mechanics within the game growing old and stale by the end.
Perception had every right and opportunity to stand out within the horror genre. While many games reply on creatures or entities or tropes to deliver a strong horror experience, Perception had a unique opportunity to fold in a real life disability in order to make a memorable horror experience. Instead, Perception feels uninspired and often lacking. Cassie could have stood out as a unique video game protagonist, overcoming and embracing her disability to create a narrative that meant something. Instead, players are left with repetitive gameplay, a laughably predictable story, and the undeniable feeling that they were ultimately left in the dark.