Survival horror has always been a hot and cold genre. There’s so many different things that scare so many different people, finding the balance to appeal to as many people as possible, is no small feat. Some games manage to do this with ease, such as Outlast and Alien Isolation. You see, it’s not just about the jump scares, a developer simply needs to capture an atmosphere and relay it in such a way that it feels unnerving. Resident Evil had the cat in the bag until they started introducing ridiculous AI partners that do nothing but annoy you and chat shit from beginning to end. Equally as important as setting an atmosphere and dishing up jump scares is making the player feel isolated, and to do that, Perception has you taking on the role of a blind woman who can only navigate through the use of echolocation. What is echolocation? Think Marvel’s Daredevil, and you’ll get a pretty good idea, but is it a feature that works well?
As aforementioned, you take on the role of Cassie, a blind woman who travels to Massachusetts to seek out a haunted estate that has been troubling her dreams. Following months of research, Cassie discovers an abandoned mansion in Gloucester, and once there, she finds that Echo Bluff is much worse than what she had imagined. Now she’s tasked with solving the mysteries of the estate, or else she’ll fall victim to the ghostly presence that has been tormenting the inhabitants for generations, a presence that has now set its sights on Cassie. I wont spoilt what follows on, but what I will say is that it’s a well set story for the genre that this game sits in.
Perception (for the most part) does well at grabbing your complete attention. This is a first person game that has you paying close attention to the environment through echolocation. Cassie’s footsteps will show small bursts of audio-vision, which offers a momentary glimpse of your surroundings. You can also slam her cane onto objects to capture a full view of each room. The echolocation mechanic emits a blue vibrant wipe across the screen, which is why I alluded to Marvel’s Daredevil earlier on. It’s a functionality that really does work wonders, but with that being said, it begins to wear thin sooner than it should.
The game plays out with a lot of travelling through different eras that date back as far as the 1600’s. Cassie will rummage through the mansion and obtain a collection of belongings that were owned by previous occupants, which eventually helps to piece together the mysteries that unfold throughout. The estate will shift and alter as you play out each chapter in the history of the eerie estate. The unique style and gameplay mechanic does prove to be fresh and inviting at first, but that’s not to say that it holds the whole package together considerably well. In fact, by the time I was over half way through the six hour campaign, it was sat on the line between tiresome and frustrating.
That’s the main problem with Perception, the functionality. When you lay down a foundation, it needs to be built upon with added implementations that keeps the gameplay from a trip to boredom-ville, whilst ensuring the player is constantly on the edge of their seat. Don’t get me wrong, Perception is a well structured game that houses some truly interesting moments, but these brief high points just don’t carry through until the endgame. It’s a huge shame, because despite the constant uneasy feeling that The Presence was watching me, I couldn’t help but be more aware of the missed opportunities within.
Allow me to explain. As you make your way through the mansion, you’ll be tapping your cane to get a better look at the environment. However if you tap too often, you’ll alert The Presence, who will then descend upon you and murder you where you stand. Sounds frightening, right? Unfortunately not, or at least not after it’s happened to you several times already, thanks to the lack of a cooldown gauge. That’s right, the game has you relying on a tool that will (in turn) either kill you, or help you. This wouldn’t be so bad in itself, but not knowing how many times you can tap the cane and at what frequency, forces you to play the game in such a way that you’ll either be exploring in the dark, or play hide and seek.
It’s fair to say that Perception is all about edging through the experience at a pace that balances risk with awareness. Being blind is your immediate disadvantage, but there are tools that help you through the journey, such as your phone. The phone can be used to scan objects and notes, using text-to-speech, to help Cassie understand what’s what. An App known as Friendly Eyes will allow you to chat to a support worker, who will describe things that you cannot otherwise see. It opens up a dialogue that helps to promote some light banter, and at times, an additional layer of fear. It’s a great function nevertheless, if not at all game changing.
The voice acting isn’t fantastic across the board, but for the most part, the actors do indeed manage to pull off the job, which goes hand in hand with the story quite well. However, Perception shines at its brightest when you’re exploring and simply taking in the surroundings. The echolocation, grouped with the dated mansion, plays with your mind in a variety of different ways. Did I just catch a glimpse of something watching me in the distance? What the hell was that noise in the next room? Who shut that freakin door? This is when you’re forced to feel on edge, and it’s absolutely terrific.
Perception is an interesting game that weaves together some well thought out ideas. Sadly, these mechanics do tend to grow tiresome towards the end of the game, and the lack of much needed features, such as a gauge to let you know you’re about to alert the foe, does hurt the experience a little bit. Visually, this game manages to hit all the right marks. The game has been designed in such a way that you feel connected to the protagonist, and isolated. Sitting at about six hours in length, there’s not a huge portion of longevity or even replay value, but it’s hard not to admire what’s on offer. Perception may not be as gripping or scary as (say) Outlast, but it successfully manages to stand out on its merits.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.