Perception - An Ambitious Concept That Fails To Translate Over To A Video Game | A Short Pause Review
When you hear that a handful of developers from the now-defunct (but legendary) Irrational Games are developing a horror game surrounding a blind woman’s journey through a haunted house, how could you not be overly excited? As a huge fan of horror games and strong storytelling in general, I was eagerly anticipating the impending arrival of The Deep End Games’ horror-adventure game, Perception. Unfortunately, what we have here is a misfire of massive proportions. Despite a few strong ideas throughout, these are simply unable to materialize amidst some annoying design choices and a horrific game-breaking bug.
Perception places you in the shoes of Cassie Thornton, a blind woman who’s determined to figure out the source of the nightmares that are consistently haunting her. This has led her to the Estate of Echo Bluff, a house in Massachusetts that has stories of its own to tell. Immediately upon arrival, she realizes there is more to this house than she originally thought. Apparently, there have been multiple incidences involving its inhabitants over the course of many generations. For Cassie to discover her purpose here, she must first learn about what happened to the others. The house alters its appearance throughout the four chapters, with interactive items and recordings littered throughout that drive the story.
The main gameplay crux here is that Cassie uses a form of Echolocation — which is using sound to bounce off of an object and reflect data back, much like sonar — to “see” her surroundings for a limited time. It’s an interesting concept that is based on an actual real thing, and I can appreciate the potential this holds for a horror game. However, it’s the implementation of echolocation that grows tiresome almost before the first chapter even ends. Cassie uses her cane to trigger the effect, and the sound the cane makes is downright mind-numbing. Because the image of your surroundings is only available momentarily, except when you’re near a noisy device such as radios or steam pipes, you’ll be tapping the cane repeatedly to make your way through the house. It became so painfully repetitive that I often found myself stepping away from the game multiple times throughout my 4-hour play through. Cassie also has a “sixth-sense” type of ability where she can touch certain objects to hear stories about the victims of that specific chapter.
Now, obviously, you can’t be in a haunted house without some form of sinister supernatural entity hunting you down mercilessly. Simply known as the Presence, he or she appears anytime you make too much noise, such as when running through the house or excessively using Cassie’s cane. I guess it wouldn’t be an effective horror game if the cane sounded like any other cane I’ve seen used by a blind person — which isn’t loud at all — because then the Presence wouldn’t even know you were there! The Presence can’t be killed, only eluded by hiding and waiting for it to go away after a short period of time. Well, that’s if it decides to go away, I suppose. There were multiple times where I’d enter a chest or closet to hide, but the Presence would just hover there breathing heavily without leaving. In one instance, I stayed hidden for upwards of five minutes and figured the hell with it; I jumped out (in an effort to scare it?) only to meet my demise. I don’t know if this was a bug, but considering the game-breaker I’ll talk about here shortly, it’s safe to assume that it was. The Presence isn’t anything particularly scary to look it, it’s just a red mist-like apparition that appears and flies at you quickly. As the main threat, it doesn’t succeed at delivering the scares much at all.
With all that said, the biggest issue I had with Perception occurred at the start of the fourth and final chapter when I realized that — after 30 minutes of wandering aimlessly — the house had not fully rendered. As I was walking around the house, I noticed items floating in the air as if they were sitting on a table or desk, and doors without frames just sitting ominously in the middle of the room. When I went upstairs, walls were missing. I went to step out onto the roof and I fell through the floor, landing outside of the house. I walked around to the barn, but couldn’t enter it. That’s when I realized something wasn’t right at all. So, I looked up a YouTube walkthrough of Chapter 4 and confirmed that the level had not fully loaded up on my end. I recognized a few door placements from the video, but everything else was not present in my game. After closing the game a few times — and even turning off my Xbox One in hopes of the game resetting and loading properly — it became evident that the ONLY way I’d be able to reach this chapter again was to start over from the beginning. Obviously, another four hours of game time doesn’t seem like a particularly daunting task in most cases, but because of the repetitively annoying game play present here, I made the hard decision to walk away because I had seen (and heard) enough.
I could’ve easily said this game was total crap and not given a care in the world, but what makes Perception especially disappointing is there are some good things happening with the title. The voice acting is solid all around, and Cassie makes for a believable, strong character. She’s vulnerable by herself, but it’s her courage and determination that makes her someone you can root for. Using her phone’s text-to-talk feature to scan and read documents around the house is unique, and it offers you a look at how technology aids people with disabilities in remarkable ways. There are some — and it probably could’ve used more — well-timed jump scares and effectively creepy moments that remind you that this is an evil house, too. While the Presence is the main antagonist (other than the house), it’s the evil little poppets that genuinely creeped me out, especially in the third chapter.
I had high hopes for Perception, which made this experience all the more unfortunate. Clearly The Deep End Games had a unique idea for a video game here, but it just doesn’t translate well to the medium. It’s evident by the care that went into researching the hardships that blind folks must deal with daily — like how Cassie uses her mind and technology to survive — that The Deep End Games is very passionate about the subject matter. However, in the end, this is a video game, and when the main gameplay mechanic becomes a hindrance during the first hour, there’s not much that can be done from a presentation perspective to help alleviate it. The whole game-breaking bug that forces you to start over from the very beginning doesn’t help either.
The Long and Short of It...
We reviewed Perception on Xbox One using a digital review code generously provided to us by the fine folks at Evolve PR.