One of the most important aspects of horror games is audio. When your goal is trying to avoid showing the player too much, the sounds of a game are going to be that much more important. Perception takes this to an interesting extreme, as you play the game as a blind woman. Having to totally rely on sound design, does this make Perception even more terrifying or does the game need to open its eyes?
You play as Cassie, a blind woman who finds herself in front of a house that she can't stop dreaming about. She forces herself to enter and try to figure out these dreams and stumbles upon a supernatural mystery along the way. Living through the histories of several people who used to inhabit the house, Cassie now needs to figure out how to save their spirits and get out before she becomes one of the ghosts that haunt the place. She'll meet a variety of interesting characters along the way, seeing their histories and how they ended up stuck where they are. One features a soldier's wife slowly loses her mind with her inability to get overseas to find out her husband's safety, while another involves an inventor that is creating dolls for sick girls. It's an interesting premise, and each story is carried out convincingly from simple beginnings to tragic ends.
Perception's new offering to the horror genre is simply the fact that Cassie is blind. She can only get around the environment by using noise to help her navigate. For the player, this means that the entire game is pitch black except for when there's a sound of any kind, which will allow you to echolocate and have an idea of what's around you. You can press a button to tap your cane against the ground, giving you a good idea of a specific area for a limited time. Doing this also marks doors and hiding spaces with a permanent green glow to make them easier to find later. The downside to this is that it makes noise. Make too much noise and you risk getting the attention of The Presence, which wants to turn Cassie into another spirit trapped in the house.
This gimmick is both Perception's biggest advantage and its biggest pain. The sound design is so strong that I was constantly terrified. I could never identify what each sound was, something that was arguably more terrifying as I let my imagination figure it out, and I had to feel my way around the darkness and decide if I wanted to tap my cane and risk bringing attention to myself or not. In this sense, the game is absolutely horrifying to the point where I found myself keeping an eye on the daylight and leaving the game paused for several minutes to collect my nerve. I genuinely believe Perception may have been the most terrifying horror game I've played in a very long time.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. The blindness means I spent quite a lot of time lost and frustrated. Perception attempts to alleviate this by giving Cassie a sixth sense ability which highlights the objective so you have a general idea where to go. The problem is that this still means navigating the layout of the house. I constantly found myself stuck on objects or unable to find the staircase needed to advance the game. It can be frustrating when I'm trying to keep as quiet as possible and don't want to risk tapping my cane to see where I am. Instead, I often tried to rely on what little I could remember of the level layouts. It's even more frustrating when I waste some precious silence to discover I'm facing the wrong way in a corner.
On the chance that you catch the attention of The Presence, you won't be able to fight against it. Instead, you can only run and hide by ducking into closets and under beds. If you play quietly, you shouldn't be seeing too much of The Presence. By the end of the game, I had seen the monster a handful of times and only managed to accidentally summon it once. Later on, you do run into a second threat in the form of Poppet, a gun-wielding doll. While Poppet may be able to shoot you from a distance, she's stuck moving along a set track which means you have a massive advantage in avoiding her. While I managed to avoid The Presence pretty easily, I found myself getting into more trouble with Poppet, and thought she was the greater threat.
One major problem that Perception has comes from its glitches. If it's an option, try to set aside the four hours you'll need to beat the game in one playthrough, as I found that most glitches occurred whenever I had to start the game back up. Whether it be Cassie's sixth sense pointing me in the wrong direction, doors locked when they shouldn't be, traps resetting, or events not triggering correctly, it felt like every time I had to reload Perception I ran into some new problem. Thankfully none of them were too serious and I was able to get around most of them, or at least ignore them.
I can say, without a doubt, that Perception was up there as one of the most purely scary games I have ever played. The blindness mechanic really does serve as the game's greatest asset, when it's all working correctly. It also drags the game down harder than it should, and at times I almost found myself wishing there was a "sight" mode. Still, if horror is your thing and you don't mind being lost, then you shouldn't wait any longer for this.
Perception was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by the developers. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One and is coming to Nintendo Switch at a later date.
Perception's blindness is both its biggest strength and weakness. While it did lead to some frustrating moments of being lost without a clue what to do, it also meant really having to think about the environment and truly wondering what each noise what. Perception was ultimately terrifying when it was at its best.
- Truely Terrifying
- Story is Interesting
- Blindness is a Smart Mechanic When it Works
- Strong Audio Design
- Blindness Becomes Frustrating at Times
- Too Easy to Avoid Threats