Survival horror games are ten a penny these days but Perception attempts to freshen things up with a novel premise and some unique gameplay mechanics. However, is that enough to help it stand out from the crowd?
Perception got my interest over a year ago when it was first revealed, partly due to its original mechanics and to the credentials of its developers who had worked on genre classics like BioShock and Dead Space. However, my enthusiasm was cooled somewhat by the spate of negative reviews it received when it recently launched on PC. I was subsequently expecting a bit of a car crash but I'm pleased to report that Perception is actually a decent and worthwhile experience.
Perception tells the story of Cassie, a young blind woman who's on a mission to investigate a creepy mansion that's been haunting her dreams. Once inside the house, she encounters ghosts of its previous residents who each tell a depressing tale. There are four of these stories in total, each related in its own chapter. The look and feel of the house changes with each story as new areas become accessible to explore. All four are also interconnected in a mysterious way, not least by The Presence, a deadly apparition that mimics and stalks Cassie.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Perception is how it successfully manages to tell its story via a blind protagonist. You "see" in the game by tapping your cane on objects which gives Cassie an impression of what's around her. Other items in the environment that make noise (like TVs and radios) also help her discern her surroundings. The catch is that tapping your cane too much can attract The Presence so you have to be careful how often you use it. This makes navigating the house decidedly more difficult and spooky as you're often left wandering into the unknown because you're afraid of attracting the ghost. Another clever aspect is that you use a couple of phone apps to help you interpret the world around you. One of them can be used on written documents and translates text to speech so Cassie can understand it. Another sends photographs to a remote helper who describes their contents.
Cassie also has a "sixth sense" that allows her to highlight her next objective which makes getting around decidedly easier. Most of the time, this works well. However, there was one occasion in which I was wandering around for ages and had to resort to a video guide to progress. It turned out that I was missing a lighter patch on the ceiling in one of the rooms. Generally speaking, it can also be kind of awkward finding your way around in the dark when you have to limit your number of cane taps to avoid alerting The Presence.
The other main aspect that I enjoyed about Perception is its four self-contained stories. At first, the narrative is a little confusing but once you realise that each story is relating the events of a previous generation in the house and that there is something connecting them all together, things become much more intriguing. The stories themselves aren't particularly original but they're sufficiently lurid to keep you committed to uncovering their outcomes and how they relate to one another and to Cassie.
However, some may feel let down that Perception isn't very scary which is surprising given its developers' past projects. It makes repeated attempts at jump scares that often don't quite work. These usually involve a corpse or something popping up in front of you but as it's clear that such apparitions don't do any harm, their ability to induce fear is severely hampered. Also, because you often can't see what's going on, you frequently miss these instances entirely and the only way you know you were supposed to be frightened was because of a dramatic sound cue. Even so, there are a few genuinely creepy moments such as when you're first chased by The Presence and have to frantically find somewhere to hide. Plus, one chapter is full of dolls and everyone knows dolls are always freaky.
With only four chapters, Perception is a short game that doesn't justify its launch price. However, its unique gameplay mechanics are genuinely smart and imaginative and its quartet of narratives are morbidly engaging. After having been a little put off by its initial negative reception, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's actually pretty good.
- + Seeing via echolocation is novel
- + Interesting and well told self-contained stories
- + The use of phone apps to help you read and see is a cool idea
- - How to progress is occasionally unclear
- - Having to be frugal with your echolocation can make getting around awkward
- - A lot of the scripted jump scares fall flat