Horror games are defined by how well a developer can inspire fear, while giving the player just enough capabilities to feel endangered by a perceived threat. Perception pushes the genre with a unique take on first person adventure by having players control Cassie, a tenacious, blind young lady who has been tormented by night terrors that take place at the Estate at Echo Bluff. The player will use Cassie’s Daredevil-like echolocation abilities to navigate through a labyrinth to unravel the mystery of the mansion that has been reaching out to her.
The blend of visuals and classic horror themes in Perception makes for a creepy game that falls short when it comes to gameplay. The game excels at captivating the player with its traditional theme and well-written dialogue. The points where it could improve were in the lack of interactive gameplay elements coupled with performance issues. Overall, players who enjoy the creepiness of Amnesia will love Perception, even without the puzzles.
Gameplay in Perception
In the beginning, the game has the player going into a Massachusetts blizzard to explore an estate that has been haunting Cassie’s dreams. Throughout the game, Cass only has vision near sources of sound. Cane taps on various surfaces provide the player additional vision when there is a lack of sound. As Cassie progresses though the house, a breadcrumb trail of information will be the guide. This information is usually recorded voices or spirits of the previous owners, and tells how the house drove them to eventual insanity. The player will also discover a presence lurking around the estate. If too much noise is generated from the player, the presence will arrive and hunt Cassie unless she can hide first. Each of the four chapters contain a new setting and characters ranging from a 1940’s housewife, to a pre-1900’s scientist.
Players will spend the majority of the game navigating Cass through the estate finding points of interest, finding a key or a code, and returning back to the point of interest. The player is given one path to follow in the estate rather than allowing the player decide an individual route. The player will have very little freedom in how levels are completed. Perception is also not a very difficult or long game, taking less than ten hours. The presence will appear only if the player is careless with Cassie’s cane taps. Even if players does summon the presence, Cass is able to hide quite easily, nullifying the impact of the main antagonist. There were also issues where the game would crash, or instances where Cass would be stuck in a wall after hiding.
The story aspect of the game is a strong aspect of Perception despite the outlandish back story of traveling to New England to find the source of Cassie’s nightmares and solve the mystery of a house. Well executed bits of story fed to the player as they explore the house kept the plot feeling fresh. For example, in the first chapter, a series of voice recordings show the perspectives of a couple that once occupied the house and how it pushed the wife into madness. The recordings start off innocent, and ease into details on how the combination of the husband’s medications and whispers of the house drove the wife, to burn her husband and child in a tower before taking her own life in the foyer. Each chapter of the game is distinct, interesting, and has a time-honored sense of frightening nature. As the game progresses plot elements slowly tie all together. The quick pace of the story makes it an appealing experience to play through.
Visuals and Sound
Perception’s visuals is the game’s defining feature. The echolocation and the limited vision really set the stage for an intense experience. The screen will also change color when Cass is threatened, which delivers sporadic tense moments through the game. There are a few cutscenes that seemed unpolished, such as the fire that disappears with a spray from an extinguisher. Overall, the graphics of the game are innovative and crisp enough to provide an interesting setting.
The audio for the game has it’s highs and lows. The music for this game is quite underwhelming and hardly memorable. Aside from the occasional scripted crescendo, there was little ambiance that was provided from the musical selection.
The dialogue for Perception has to be one of the more entertaining and interesting parts of the game. The player chooses at the beginning of the game to have Cassie be chatty, or speak during main plot points. The chatty mode allows the player to understand Cass to an extra degree, even when she drops cheesy one-liners.
The dialogue really helps convey the story aspect of Perception. Voice acting of the personalities trapped in the house help sell the time periods visited throughout the game. Despite having less than optimal music and cutscenes, Perception compensates with great dialogue and unique visuals.
At the end of the day, Perception is a few key points away from being a classic horror game. The original perspective of echolocation and sound based vision is a great gameplay mechanic. A wonderful story and convincing voice actors make the plot worthwhile. Perception has other areas that need some touching up before I could call this game a must play.
All images copyright The Deep End Games.