Before playing Perception, it had been a while since I encountered a truly unique gameplay experience in an indie horror game. Many of them follow a standard recipe for the genre. Jump scares. Pools of blood. Zombies or demented humans. As fans, we are generally okay with this idea. We find a genre we enjoy, and we play any and all games in that genre that we can find. Perception, however, breaks the mold. It’s uses the horror genre to tell a compelling story and encourage understanding. It’s compassionate in its mission, but it still feels like a horror game.
Deep End Game’s Perception opens with a brief introduction to our protagonist, Cassie. She’s blind, and she navigates through the use of echolocation. By listening to the sound of her cane tapping on the floor or static issuing from an old radio, she can sense her immediate surroundings. Cassie’s been having dreams of an old, spooky mansion, and she comes to the conclusion that the only way to stop the dreams is to visit the house for herself – by herself – already proving that she’s one hundred times braver than I am.
We take control of Cassie as she arrives at the mansion, and the controls are simple. The space bar allows us to tap her cane and get a brief glimpse of the room we are in. Select items can be inspected by clicking on them, but Cassie doesn’t carry much inventory. No weapons. No tools except her cell phone.
We can flip through voice messages on her phone, listen to her MP3 collection, or use the phone to solve puzzles. If Cassie picks up an item that she can’t interpret on her own, she can use her phone to take a photo of the item. An app connects her to an operator who can describe the item in detail. Words might be scribbled onto a page, or her path might be blocked by an obstacle she can’t see. Sometimes, Cassie will pick up an item or a piece of paper, and the house will transfer its memories to her.
Navigating the mansion takes patience. It’s possible to beat the game without ever having Cassie use her cane. In fact, there’s an achievement for it. But using the cane is important if you want to really examine every area of the home. It would be all too easy for Cassie to tap her cane nonstop, giving us a constant, full view of our surroundings. But no, the house can hear her. There’s a frightening Presence who will get bothered and come after her if she makes too much noise. Unfortunately for us, The Presence isn’t much of a challenge. Every floor of the house is littered with hiding places, even though The Presence rarely makes an appearance. In my short run through the game, I only encountered him three or four times.
The entire game of Perception takes place within the haunted house and its surroundings but over the course of several generations of inhabitants. The house transforms a little with each chapter, keeping its skeleton and layout, but changing decor and haunts. The slight changes help to keep the game interesting, while the consistency in layout keeps the blind navigation from becoming frustrating. After a short while, I began to memorize the general floorplan. However, I was still challenged every chapter, because enough of the surroundings changed in appearance.
Cassie is an interesting protagonist. She’s stubbornly independent, and she won’t accept help from her friends. When she needs assistance, she relies on a stranger at the other end of her cell phone app instead of sending a photo to someone she knows. Is she afraid of showing weakness? I also found the stories of the house to be compelling. Each chapter is eerie but heartbreaking. The characters we encounter are complex, their lives tragic. Deep End Games turned a horror game into a study on what it means to be human.
The biggest downfall to Perception is the length of the game. It only takes about four or five hours to reach the end. There are some achievements that will be nearly impossible to obtain the first time around, but there’s little incentive to immediately play through the game again. I appreciate that the game isn’t more difficult for the sake of lengthening the duration, but I feel there could have been another chapter or two.
In summary, Perception offers a unique gameplay experience and a refreshingly compelling story. Cassie is a strong protagonist, and through her, we can learn to be more curious and understanding. Perception is chilling but doesn’t bombard you with jump scares. It lets the story of the house and limited vision maintain a steady tension through the game. In a way, they almost fall short of how scary it could be. The Presence could be more difficult to avoid, more menacing. Overall, I left the game wanting a few more hours of gameplay with Cassie.
A PC review copy of Perception was provided by Feardemic for the purpose of this review