Perception Review – Alone In The Dark

A game with a blind protagonist that’s all about the visuals.

Developer: The Deep End Games
Publisher: Feardemic
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: May 30 (PC) & June 6 (console), 2017
Copy provided by publisher

In a world where you can trip over a paving slab and find fifteen of them on the floor it’s becoming increasingly difficult for indie horror games to stand out, but that’s exactly what The Deep End achieved with Perception.

A stylistic and unique take on the increasingly weary cat-and-mouse spook ’em up, Perception had peoples’ attention from the get-go.

The pedigree of the team was a huge selling point, especially when it was raising funds on Kickstarter. The Deep End proudly boasts developers who have worked on BioShock and BioShock Infinite, and they wanted you to know it.

More than that, however, was the central premise of Perception – protagonist Cassie is blind, and as she explores a haunted mansion in Massachusetts, she’ll need to rely on more than her eyes to make it through the night.

At least that’s the theory. In practice, the use of echolocation as a gameplay mechanic makes for an inherently visual game, one that uses its protagonist’s impairment more as a means for a unique graphical style than a meaningful challenge.

In a twist of unfortunate irony, the game uses imagery to represent sound so much that audio itself has very little impact on the game – an issue that feels notably jarring in a game about using sound to navigate.

Players see (and that doesn’t need to be quotes) by tapping Cassie’s cane on the ground and using the reverb to build a picture of her surroundings. By doing this, players can effectively see better than Daredevil ever could, right down to individual bolts and textures in floorboards, as well as entire human faces (or doll faces, at the very least).

Any sound in the environment paints a detailed picture of nearby surroundings in ethereal shades of blue. While Cassie’s cane is the primary method of visualizing the world, details are further illuminated by chiming clocks, hissing radiators, and dripping water.

Much of the screen is naturally rendered in black while details are picked out in blue. Doorways or important hiding spots appear with green highlighting. To keep players from truly stumbling around, Cassie also possesses a convenient “sixth sense” ability that pinpoints the next objective with a bright white outline.

I’ll confess that I do not know how those able to utilize echolocation “see” their world, and I’ll also acknowledge the inherent difficulty in making first-person game that effectively portrays blindness while remaining playable, recognizable, and marketable. With my ignorance of the former and knowledge of the latter, I won’t criticize the way Perception handles it too harshly.

I will however suggest the entire game’s premise comes off as overtly gimmicky rather than a serious attempt to try something unique, with the character’s visual restriction wallpapering over what would otherwise be a fairly rote horror experience.

Cassie had a dream about a mansion and decided to go to the mansion which turns out to be real. That’s the premise for Perception, and it’s among the weaker ones I’ve seen for a horror story, with no build or logical reasoning for Cassie’s behavior.

It’s very much like the initial premise for Silent Hill 2, except where Team Silent consistently subverted and called out James Sunderland’s irrational motivation, Perception plays it almost entirely straight.

Cassie is also skilled in psychometry for plot reasons, able to hear voices from ghostly apparitions by touching objects. These voices detail the story of the house across several generations, serving as typical videogame “audio logs” and reenacting the grim fates of those who lived there prior.

Storytelling is slickly presented, as one might expect from those with BioShock experience, but it’s just not particularly good.

Well directed setpieces and decently performed dialogue are all dandy but there’s no real character arc for Cass, and her reactions to the unfolding narrative invariably come with an emotional charge that has no reason to be there.

She becomes 100% invested in everything a ghost says or does while hardly knowing a thing about them. She also starts piecing together plots without prompting, trying to stop things from happening to the ghosts even though they’ve already happened. Quite how she could stop these things, or why she thinks she can, isn’t explored.

She just finds stuff and does other stuff with it, and we’re not really expected to question things.

All of this makes it particularly difficult for the player to connect with the experience.

Audio logs can create some compelling characters through prolonged exposure, as this team fully knows, but when various monologues are dished out swiftly with large amounts of obfuscating vagueness thrown in, one has to wonder why Cassie is sometimes to the point of tears when a voice she doesn’t know is feeling sad for reasons that don’t make immediate sense to the listener.

One major problem is that Perception tries to tell an anthology of horror stories across two or three hours, cramming in as many speeches as it can to recount some utterly ridiculous tales.

One of them is about a man who I think accidentally made evil dolls that killed him with evil apples? Maybe. It was rather silly, and relied heavily on the overdone “creepy doll” trope to try and falsify some scares. I’ll admit I lost track of this one, especially as I wrestled with some glitches that saw evil dolls with guns camping outside of hiding spots or Cassie getting stuck inside the bed she was hiding under.

Despite the horror overtones and a handful of active threats, much of Perception is spent walking from location to location, the underlying visual premise being the only difference maker between it and a dozen games of its kind.

Tapping the cane too much is the biggest issue facing players, since the creation of too much noise will summon “The Entity” – a genuinely creepy hooded figure that repeats character dialog in an unnerving tone that reminds one of The Predator’s vocal mimicry.

However, while said Entity is freaky, its appearance is inconsistent – you can smash the cane into the ground over and over without attracting it sometimes, while large noises in the environment itself do nothing to make it appear even for a quite jump scare or something. Anything. I’d love it if this game gave me something to emotionally grasp.

It doesn’t though, and the game’s primary antagonist almost never appears. Even when it does, slipping into a highlighted hidey hole until it goes away is a mere inconvenience rather than a terrifying chase, so an initially intimidating apparition is defanged almost immediately and never feels as scary as it should be… or at all.

That’s your game, unfortunately. One made with clear love and effort, but running low on inspiration, lacking a credible story or threat.

Perception is miles better than the myriad “me too” horror games saturating Steam, but it’s certainly not exceptional. Underneath the visual style – and it’s ultimately just an aesthetic choice – is regular ol’ walk-and-talk horror game that manages a little panache but contains no material of substantial value, be it narratively or interactively.

5/10
Mediocre

Eric Lueck
Member

Being visually impaired, I need to echo (pun not intended) my disappointment at what could be a unique horror experience and possibly even an exploration of what those with little or no sight experience on a daily basis. It’s a shame something that should be excellent at implication and suggestion with good audio design is a gimmicky mess of visuals that completely disconnect the player from any sense of character empathy. I’m a little angry that something this potentially unique was wasted and anything like this won’t be attempted for a while. If the devs wanted genuine authenticity, they could’ve… Read more »

Lucy
Guest
Lucy

Minor note: it seems the hooded figure is called The Presence not The Entity

Sam
Guest
Sam

Aw, that’s a shame. I was hoping this would be good.

Jpkurihara
Guest
Jpkurihara

I read the review’s title as “Alone in the Fart” and after seeing the score I wonder why you didn’t name it that.

Christian Pohl
Member

Ummm… that’s not how blindness works. 🙂

For a truly immersive experience, they should have made this a pure audiogame. My wife is fully blind and she’d love to play a good horror game by herself instead of “looking” over my shoulder when I’m playing RE, Silent Hill or the like. Being limited to mostly text-based games her screen reader can interpret gets old after a while, and most pure audiogames are rather simplistic affairs, mostly done by bedroom programmers.

Forrest Humphrey
Guest
Forrest Humphrey

I remember really wanting to back this because I really loved the idea, but I’d just thrown all my spare cash at Bloodstained. Still I’d hoped this game would make it and its a shame it didn’t live up to its potential. I’ll probably still snag it for a few bucks come the summer sale I suppose.

George
Guest
George

Hey Jim, Why do you think there are so many first person horror games on Steam?

Your various video series have shown that they run the gambit all the way from, “utter shite” to “pretty damn good” but there’s way too many on the store. You’d think that even for the ones with an honest attempt at quality that their devs would realize how over saturated and cynical the market is getting?

Are they easier to code? Are they cheeper to make? Do they make more money? Is the market for them just that big? I don’t get it.

JackieGoOutside
Guest
JackieGoOutside

“One of them is about a man who I think accidentally made evil dolls that killed him with evil apples? Maybe… I wrestled with some glitches that saw evil dolls with guns camping outside of hiding spots or Cassie getting stuck inside the bed she was hiding under.”

Reminds me a of recurring nightmare I had when I was around 7. Also, like, be nice if one of these days they can make a game with a blind protag and actually not have it based so heavily on visuals and instead be something blind people can play for once.

The Magic Lemur
Member

Almost sounds like it would have been more interesting as a walking simulator with a puzzle aspect.

Aiden
Guest
Aiden

This could have been a super cool horror game if they took the idea from that other blind girl game (can’t remember the name) that you don’t really know what an object really is without further investigation and context. Not being able to truly trust the environment while being chased by a scary monster sounds pretty terrifying to me.

Normal horror game except blue does not.

Chris
Member

Aww man, I backed this game and have the code sitting here waiting to be redeemed after it showed up this past week. I will probably still give it a shot, but I kind of worried something like this would happen.

supertramp
Guest
supertramp

Conarium please.

Callum Carr
Member

I remember a bunch of indie games I saw Markiplier playing a long time ago that followed a similar sort of premise. One was called The Devil’s Tuning Fork and another called Lurking, though I don’t know if those ever saw full releases since they were both demos.

Jeff Go
Guest
Jeff Go

Hi Jim, I love your work so much. I miss you delivering the news at destructoid. Is there any chance you get back there one day? I miss Jim being a journalist. 🙂

Terry-Osaurusus Hex XI
Member

This was kind of my take on it too. It could have been something great, but the execution leaves it quite disappointing. I hope it doesn’t dissuade anybody else or even the same developer from expanding and honing the idea into better forms.

And as much as I’d prefer to ignore VR, I do think this type of sensual manipulation could give brilliant experiences if utilised properly.

Anton Caligari
Member

This comment was inspired by true events…

So this is how Daredevil sees the world (except in red) 🙂
Was meaning to get around a check the game out (the gaming mechanics as least looked interesting.

Azirphaeli
Guest
Azirphaeli

I guess we all can’t be Forbidden Siren..

Adam
Guest
Adam

Hmm… Sounds like it has a good amount of potential, shame they couldn’t follow through.

LegendaryFrog
Guest
LegendaryFrog

Neat premise. It’s a shame it didn’t end up all that great. Maybe I’ll pick it up on sale to support the studio?

KassFireborn
Member

Damn. I had some hopes for this one. There’s so much you could do–like don’t forget about other senses, and have the echo-location only give you rough shapes that you have to fill in by touch, with the risk of touching god-knows-what.

InfamousDS
Guest
InfamousDS

Shame that the blindness is a gimmick. Disabilities-as-mechanics is something that has always intrigued me intellectually, and I hate to see it done either poorly, inaccurately, without good reason or all of the above. That other game whose name I forgot seemed to make more sense in terms of how blindness would work. You get an idea of what’s there, and you remember where you’ve been and what you’ve “seen”, but since you can’t actually see you don’t have any details or colors as a point of reference. You just know what a dog sounds like, and that the dog… Read more »

Dragongelf
Member

I’ll have you know, Jim, that I am blind and use echo-sensory vision to read all of your reviews!

10/10 this game is the best, you uncultured lout!

Alex Dlabso
Guest
Alex Dlabso

Is there seriously, nothing more interesting to review?

Moiz Jafferji
Member

The premise is extremely promising, especially if it was in VR. There was a VR experience on the Gear VR (forgot the name of the title) that dealt with how blind people uses sound to see the world, based on documents from a real person. If the game used that as a mechanic and really focused on the audio, this could be a really promising horror game. It could also get away with VR-motion sickness as the the would be mostly in black. But as it stands this is just a generic horror game with an interesting visual style.

Maxine Caulfield
Member
Maxine Caulfield

You should really add a feature to delete comments.