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.

Exile
Guest
Exile

I can’t remember the name, but there was a first-person survival game a few years back that had compass-point navigation (think Dungeon Master or Grimrock) and was, most importantly, playable entirely blind – the visuals were intentionally pretty simple and there was an option to turn them off entirely. The main driver of the environment was the sound design.
I think it was set on a space station or a moon base or something, but that was probably back around 2005 or so, so it may have drifted into obscurity by now.

ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ
Guest
ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ

There was also, of course, “The Tower”, which Jim did a squitjimpression of (search for “jim sterling Screen Cleaner” in youtube).

Jeremie Ferland
Member

look for ”A blind legend” on phone
she will be able to play a good video game for blind people

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.

Cross
Member

I’m not Jim, But I’ve seen a fair few videos about this stuff. Most of it is YT pewdiepie fodder. get people to scream a bit, maybe overreact and boom, you have a potential money maker.

George
Guest
George

I’ve heard of that theory too. But I would think that amongst the non-cynical devs that they would realize that given current saturation levels even the “pewdiepie bait” may be impossible or at least very difficult to generate.

jecomans
Member

Non-cynical devs probably aren’t looking for Markiplier/Pewdie coverage. There is plenty of evidence now that being covered by those guys doesn’t translate to sales. It’s a young audience looking for laughs from their favourite personalities, not game-buyers looking for recommendations. A fact that I don’t imagine the cynical would spend time doing the market research on. Or the effort needed is so low it is worth a shot anyway.

Smurglen
Guest
Smurglen

Jim had a video about this, and came to the conclusion that this doesn’t ever really work. When it does is the exception.

jecomans
Member
To a degree I think they are easier to make. They can be effectively contained to relatively limited environments, often have few characters that need to be modelled and voiced, are often dark – obfuscating much that would otherwise need to be rendered. They also often have a limited script, and few mechanics to programme. A lot of similar reasons to why you get so many shoe-string budget horror films. Whilst it still takes alot of talent to make it good, the entry-level requirements to get something made are low. As Cross says, for the cynical developer there is the… Read more »
ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ
Guest
ʕ•ᴥ•ʔ

Unity comes with premade first person controller scripts (which is where 90% of that FUCKING headbob bullshit is from – the first person controllers have headbob built in) and it’s fairly easy to build a FPH around them as they don’t require someone knowing enough about C# to create firing or attack code – all a FPH needs then is an environment for the player to wander around in & maybe the crudest of animation/modelling ability for prescripted sections if they want to do a semi-decent one, unity can handle everything else.

Astra
Guest
Astra

Its all ease to create

You dont have to render a nice looking invironment it it’s dark
Attack animations or more than 2 or 3 enemies if you dont let players fight back
Or a Character model if its first person
Horror games dont even need music

Its all laziness and corner cutting

George
Guest
George

Thanks for all the answers everyone!!!

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.

austin_sj
Guest
austin_sj

I’m pretty sure such a game exists on ios, its all sound based

Cross
Member

That was done before. John Wolf played a game with only sound and portrayed a 3d environment. can’t remember the name of the game but it certainly is possible

JackieGoOutside
Guest
JackieGoOutside

Yeah, I know it’s possible, it’s just there seems to be if there’s a blind protagonist in a game, 75% of the time it’s gonna be a visual game that has blindness as a gimmick, which sucks because I’d imagine a blind person would like to play a blind protag. That’s all I’m saying.

TeitoWolf
Guest
TeitoWolf

Two games that come to mind that i know blind people can play are Papa Sangre and Blind Legend

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.

Brett Dunbar
Member

I think by the other blind girl game you mean Beyond Eyes. I liked it. A pretty decent walking simulator with a fairly original mechanic and nice visuals.

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. 🙂

Thomas Jefferson
Guest
Thomas Jefferson

What Jim values most is independence from websites and companies, which is why he went independent in the first place. As for journalism, his Jimquisition videos on Youtube fit that bill.

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.

Jared Hockenberry
Guest
Jared Hockenberry

Except instead of only being able to see it when he does a noise, he sees it like this all the time, with no disappaearance of the environment.

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.

JennaToleWarts
Guest
JennaToleWarts

Damn! That is a really cool idea. Truly they could have done a whole lot more with the premise.

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?

jim w
Guest
jim w

Define more interesting man.

Not my type of game but the review is writen superbly

Vyns
Guest
Vyns

Do you really have nothing more interesting to say?

Terry-Osaurusus Hex XI
Member

This is an interesting idea of a game, just because it isnt highly promoted and lavishly budgeted, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored to appease people like yourself.

Paul Dennett
Guest
Paul Dennett

Weirdly, I think it’s more about what interests Jim than you. I’m sure it’d be lovely to have your own personal reviewer who can tap into your mind directly and know what you want covered…but we just don’t have that luxury.
Personally, I found the idea of this game more interesting than many indies, and certainly more interesting than anything in the AAA scene.

Alex Dlabso
Member

I was complaining about the current lack of releases. The answer, is no, no there isn’t. But im very surprised Jim doesn’t choose his reviews based on my personal preference. Untill i read your comments i was fully convinced the world revolves around me.

drownedsummer
Guest
drownedsummer

That complaint was not apparent at all.

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.

Justin McDaniel
Admin

Hey!

We’re working on some site changes, and we gotta take care of something before we can finish adding everything to the comments. But it should be coming near future!

Ayon
Guest
Ayon

I have another nitpicky thing to note: I’d love to actually log into the comment section, but I’m one of those people that don’t use social media. I have no facebook. I have no google account and I have no twitter account.

Justin McDaniel
Admin

That will be coming as well! No worries! Sorry for the hold up on this stuff. I know it can make it annoying to comment for now, but we’ll be trying to get everything running properly soon!

Thanks for everyone’s patience as we work on this.

Christo Hammond
Guest
Christo Hammond

Are you Australian too?