On paper, Perception (2017) is an intriguing title. One that puts you in the shoes of protagonist, Cassie, who is blind. As such, you see the world through her eyes and – not to be crass or flippant – she can’t see at all. This leads into Perception’s USP and the mechanic the game is built around: echolocation.
There is a stark, unsettling feeling to Perception when you first begin. The complete blackness that surrounds you is confusing. Hitting the right bumper trigger represents Cassie hitting her cane and the noise will highlight the surrounding area for a few brief seconds and ambient noise such as radiators hissing, creaking floorboards and running tape players can help you find your path. Outside of that, it’s up to you to find your way.
Utilising this mechanic is the means for navigating the mansion you explore in Perception. The prelude to the story is that Cassie has a dream about this mansion and goes to explore it. Not much reasoning is given as to why this is necessary, but that’s what we have. Despite this, the narrative does ramp up with intrigue as the game progresses. It is also clear that Perception was worked on by people from Bioshock (2007) and Bioshock: Infinite (2013), based on how the story is delivered. Audiotapes and contextualised items are scattered about the place, all as a means of drip-feeding story moments while you explore the mansion’s many rooms. Cassie is also skilled in psychometrics and can see ghostly figures of those who inhabited the mansion previously. Again, this seems in place purely to serve the narrative and it’s never explained why or how she attained this ability.
The story may be delivered in a dated manner, but it’s the most intriguing part of the game. Without it, Perception is, unfortunately, a bit dull. I’m not going to pretend that I know what it is like to be blind but I admire Perception for exploring that sensation. But having to play a horror game where the protagonist is visually impaired can, surprisingly, be a bit underwhelming. In what seems to be a means of game balancing, Perception doesn’t throw too much at you in terms of tense situations. Whereas other first-person, horror experiences, such as Outlast (2013) and Amnesia (2010) see you constantly pursued by an ever-present threat, Perception can’t get away with this based on your limited vision. Perception gets around this by introducing “The Presence” – a creepy hooded figure – when you make too much noise. Its appearance is inconsistent – it will either appear at the slightest bit of noise or won’t appear at all, even after bashing your cane repeatedly. When it does turn up, evasion is simple, hiding in an oft highlighted spot and waiting for its search pattern to cool down.
Once the connection between making too much noise and The Presence’s appearance is made, it becomes very simple to avoid it altogether, outside of a few scripted story moments, that is. Conversely, this is where Perception becomes frustrating, as the highlighted noise zone doesn’t stay lit for long, so you will find yourself bumping into walls and doors between each whack of your cane, waiting for an appropriate time to hit again. Despite this, you spend enough time in anyone layout of the mansion to move around without having to use the echolocation mechanic and The Presence ceases to become a problem. Perception attempts to remedy this by mixing up the layout of the mansion by way of shifting time zones for story purposes, but it’s simple to figure out once there. Consequently, Perception starts to play boringly and you find yourself just going through the motions, rather than immersed in an all-encompassing experience.
For a game all about vision, or lack thereof, Perception relies heavily on sound to convey a sense of atmosphere. You have the typical, horror house sounds: creaking floorboards, rustling curtains, wind seeping through the cracks in the windowpanes, doors opening and shutting and, even more creepy, muffled whispers from across the room. Initially, these sounds are unnerving and make exploration a bit tense, but their repetition forces the attempted tension to become stale very early on.
Perception had potential to be special and unique. It if was mechanically more varied, there could have been more to chew on. As it is, there isn’t a lot going on, despite its unique concept and subsequent visual style. If not for the story, which threads you through an otherwise dull experience, Perception lacks the vision to be a great experience.