Most of the games that come out these days are borrowing something from other games. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing. It’s a natural evolution of developing games. Imitation is the best form of flattery as they say. Even Horizon: Zero Dawn, which was an excellent game, borrowed a lot of elements from other games and mixed them together in a way that made Horizon its own thing.
Every once in awhile we get games that try out a new concept for better or worse. A game that adds a new element that hasn’t been done before. Perception is like that.
While it borrows plenty of mechanics from other games such as playing hide and seek with the game’s antagonist, or exploring an old house for clues, the main mechanic of the game is what makes this game very unique. Perception is a game unlike any other because you play as a blind person. As Cassie Thornton you have to make your way through a large house using a form of echo location. All while trying to unravel the mystery of the house and it's ugly past as well as Cassie's own personal mystery.
Perception was developed by The Deep End Games which consists of a husband and wife team, Bill and Amanda Gardner, and several other outside sources including members from the Bioshock Infiinite team. I can’t imagine trying to develop a game while chasing around 4 kids. Kudos to them.
Because of this team and the concept that inspired the game, Perception has a very personal touch to it. While not perfect, the unique mechanic of echo location and a touching, personal story make for an experience that you won’t soon forget.
I Can See! Sort of
The graphics in Perception are a little different then most games since you play as a blind person. Cassie “sees” by using echo location. Everything is basically a 3d representation that is shown by sound. Everything has a blue-ish tint to it which, for the most part, looks like what one might think of as sound representing objects. Everything is devoid of any other color except for certain parts of the house that are green which means Cassie has memorized it. Some of these "memorized" items include doorways, stairs, and hiding spots.
In any other game with such a minimal color pallette would probably lose points. But in this case it works in line with the story itself. Cassie is blind so she isn’t going to see different color variations in the environment because the sound bouncing off of something doesn’t relay what color it is. It’s actually really clever and in this case the lack of color works because it’s part of the character. Also, as danger approaches, aka The Presence, the colors change to an orange tint and then finally red as your imminent death approaches which again, reflects the emotion of the character.
The actual house itself is pretty standard for a large house but is well done. You've been in similar houses in other games. Each room is distinctive from the next and there are plenty of places to explore and discover many of the games hidden secrets. As you travel through time, the look of the house changes accordingly.
Ultimately the design of the house and the surrounding environment itself takes a back seat to the gameplay. Not because it’s not well done but because you are using your environment in a different way then you would in other games. That’s by design.
In other games you would memorize what things look like to make your way around but in this case you are more likely to memorize the layout of the rooms instead. It’s an interesting side effect of the unique blindness mechanic this game uses.
What was that noise?
Speaking of being blind, sound is a pretty big component for obvious reasons and in this case it’s done pretty well. Good sound can make or break a game sometimes and in the case of this game, where you’re playing as a blind person, sound takes on a whole new level of importance. The sound effects were done by one of the aforementioned members that worked on Bioshock Infinite, Jim Bonney.
Things sound like they should such as door sounds and footsteps. The game really shines with the ambient sound effects of the house. Especially when you make too much noise and start attracting unwanted attention to yourself. The house creaks and groans as if it’s turned its attention on you. You’ll hear whispers and other unnerving sounds as you explore the house.
The voice work is very well done. Cassie especially sounds very natural and is a very likable character because of it. She expresses a lot of emotion in her dialog. Listening to memories that you find through the house and audio files (which come in different forms with each timeline) have great voice acting as well and really develop characters that you never actually meet. The Presence itself has a voice that is a malicious, almost digitalized voice that is likely to make the hairs stand up on your neck when you hear it.
My only complaint is how loud your cane taps are. Maybe it’s just a personal thing but when you tap your cane to see your surroundings it shouldn’t sound like your in the middle of a theater hitting the stage with a baseball bat. There is an echo and everything when you tap your cane. In a game where you’re supposed to be quiet, banging around the house loudly seems like a bad idea. It’s no wonder you get the attention of The Presence if you tap your cane too often.
It’s just a little jarring sometimes and I suppose I get it that you are using your cane to see in your environment. It reminds me of other games where you are trying to sneak around and when you close a door it just slams shut as if you are incapable not slamming doors. It’s not a horrible thing by any means, the rest of the sound design is well done. But it pulled me out of the game at times. I ended up getting used to it so I guess it wasn’t too bad.
A creepy game of hide and seek
The main mechanic of the game is exploration as a blind person. Cassie can see her world by using echo location, similar to a bat. You use your cane to tap the floor which “lights” up the surrounding area so that you can see. Other objects in the environment also light up the world with their own noises such as a heater, a tv, or a radio. There is also one section where you can set off an old grandfather clock that lights up athe entire area which each gong.
The catch is that you can’t get too tap happy without attracting unwanted attention. The Presence is a creature that, if you bring too much attention to yourself, will quickly find your whereabouts and attack you. It’s basically a one hit kill if it catches you but you just start again from the most recent check point.
Not much is known about The Presence even after going through the story. I think that adds to the creepiness of it. You’ll get plenty of warning of its, uh, presence. When you tap your cane too much the house groans and creaks and you’ll start hearing other noises. Eventually The Presence will show itself and the colors will change to an orange tint and go into red as it gets closer.
It’s at this point that you’ll have to find one of the various hiding spots which are scattered about the house. It helps to have them memorized (meaning they are green) so that they are easier to find. Once The Presence is on your tail it’s a race to a hiding spot until things settle down. Which turns out to be fairly difficult to do when you are blind.
Cassie also has a “sixth sense” which can be used to see your next objective. When you hit the button one of two things happen: Cassie automatically looks towards your next objective, be it a door or stairs. Other times the game just tells you to explore to find out what you need to do. Which usually involves finding an item of some sort to trigger an event. This mechanic might be a bit of a hand holding but it never bothered me as it doesn’t ruin the experience. It lights up where you need to go, a door for example, but you still have to figure out how to get there.
The blindness aspect takes part in every part of the game. For example you can look at things like a piece of a paper but you won’t see the writing. Thankfully, Cassie has a text to speech app on her phone called Delphi and a friendly helper that she can call to tell her what she’s looking at. There are also tvs that you may find that make noise but of course you can’t see what is happening on the screen.
Altogether, this main mechanic of the game will make you play in a much different way then you may be used to. And it took some getting used to it but eventually I changed the way I played the game compared to other games. Instead of looking for landmarks to help remember rooms and whatnot I learned the layout of the house and was able to make my way around with the light steps of my feet and less use of my cane. It really makes you rethink how you would normally play a game like this. This aspect is a major highlight of the game and ties the gameplay and the story together while giving you a challenge you haven't had before. Plus it really does give you an idea of what it’s like to be blind.
Solve the mystery of Echo Bluff
Cassie is haunted by nightmares that draw her to the estate of Echo Bluff (fitting name). When she arrives it’s not too long before she is sucked into the history of the house. Quite literally. Each chapter takes place in the same house but in a different time period, going further back in time with each new section. She is solving mysteries of each time period as well as her own personal mystery that I won’t get into here. I will say that the game has a neat message that makes the story very memorable.
As you explore the house you’ll find objects that give you information about the people that used to live there and the horrors they went through. As mentioned before there are audio files spread throughout the house that have recordings from previous residents. There are also memories in objects that give you even more information. These objects, as well as ghostly phenomenon, also develop the characters of the people that used to live in the house and each character is fairly well fleshed out for only knowing them through ghosts of themselves and audio files.
All of these objects give you a very distinct and thorough picture of the history of the house and what happened in it. The characters are interesting and distinct even in such a short amount of time. It all culminates at the end with a message that most people can relate to.
It’s over already?
Perception is really short. You can finish the game in 2 to 4 hours (depending on how much exploration you do) but it’s a solid, satisfying few hours. There is a lot to chew on here and the gameplay is very engaging. It’ll be over before you know it. I was left wanting a little more but was also left satisfied at the same time. Which is a good combo when it comes down to it. Basically, it’ll be over quickly but that’s not such a bad thing.
Like a lot of games similar to this, Perception is an experience that you probably won’t be going to back to replay often unless you want to try and find everything or experience the story again. The replayability is a personal thing. It’s a bit like a good book that you really enjoyed but you might not read again.
My overall experience was only marred by one potential game breaking bug later in the game. The level didn’t load right and had missing elements such as walls and floors. I fell into areas that should of had floors and was able to access parts of the level that didn't even match the current house and time I was in. I managed to find my way to certain objects to trigger my ability to get to the next area. That was after getting stuck in areas I wasn’t even supposed to be in and reloading several times.
I encountered one other smaller bug that had me jumping down into an area and everytime I did it I became stuck and was too far away from an object to get to the next section.
Although a bit annoying, these bugs didn’t bother me too much and I was quick to forgive. I’d like to see someone else try to and make a game while chasing around 4 rambunctious children. I have three myself so I know how challenging it can be to do anything let alone develop a game. And besides that, after some research, the level breaking bug hasn't happened to very many people (guess I got lucky) so you may not even experience it all. I can’t really count it against them even if it’s something they probably should have caught.
Perception has a lot of heart put in to it by the husband and wife team. It really shows in the details in the game. That heart also shows in some parts as being slightly rough around the edges.
With that said I still found Perception to be a fascinating experience unlike anything else I’ve played. The story is interesting and unravels a good pace. The gameplay is extremely unique and will have you rethinking the way you play games of a similar nature. It’s a refreshing take on these so called “walking simulators” and horror games in general.
The game is equal parts scary and interesting, and as I said before, is not an experience I’m likely to forget about anytime soon.
7/5/2017 Christopher D. Anderson