Perception – Review
It is completely reasonable for a person to travel to a house that they have never been to, seemingly far away from their own residence, because they had a dream about it. I mean, I know that I have certainly been prompted to get onto a plane and travel to a random location just because I had a dream about a maple leaf, a compass, last night’s pineapple fried rice and some scotch tape.
In essence, it is the difficulty to suspend disbelief that causes a few of the issues in Perception.
The premise is definitely intriguing– a person without sight is experiencing vivid visions of a life that she did not live, in a place that she does not remember. Adding to the fear mechanic is that Cassie relies on echolocation to navigate and have a sense of her surroundings. This was the component that was the most considered part of the game, ridding us of the trivial “light and shadows” duality evident in so many horror vignettes.
It also allows the environment to be the real star of the story as it blossoms in the interpretation of an audible cue. I delighted in the attention to detail as I tapped my cane against a light wicker basket and heard the vast difference as it absorbed the sound that typically reverberated against the wooden floor boards. I was even more fascinated as the sound manifested in slightly different visual cues to represent the limited echo that had occurred. Sometimes I did not even need to tap my cane for the sound to interpret my surroundings – when I stepped outside, I could see haunting flickers of cool light as the gentle breeze swirled through the patio. It provided amazing potential for reinterpretation of the surroundings, instrumental to the short narrative.
However, it felt like the game was so reliant on this one singular element that it became nothing more than a gimmick as the rest of the game struggled to reach similar heights of ingenuity.
The game is narrated through Cassie’s self-talk, and Deep End Games provided an option to turn off the first-person feedback prior to commencing the narrative. Those intentions have the potential to be misread – perhaps the first-person narration could be skipped to be more immersive to the drama, or perhaps it was because too many controllers were being smashed in frustration. Cassie’s voice acting isn’t flat, but it just seems misplaced. If anything, it is trying to take on the role of the player by making quips and jokes to lessen the anxiety of the situation. It certainly works a treat to kill the fear factor, but perhaps not in the way that was intended.
Similarly, other characters in the narrative sound flat and disinterested. Sure, this makes sense if Cassie is getting snippets of their day-to-day rather than key dramatic points, but are people really that boring? I didn’t even pay attention to the friends leaving messages and voicemails on Cassie’s phone as the dialogues became so puerile that I wanted to hold an intervention for this poor woman and ask her if she just based her entire existence on some hip nostalgic interpretation of The Breakfast Club.
Further adding to some of the immaturity surrounding the narrative and characters, the way that Deep End Games handled the over-reliance on echolocation was to have punitive consequence rather than develop another engaging mechanism to deal with the surroundings. Cassie is thoughtful enough to have an app on her phone that takes pictures of documents that she picks up in the house and reads them to her (although how this occurs in the dark without a flash camera I could not even begin to tell you), but that provides limited information. Instead, you have an arbitrary number of times that you can smack your cane around before the big bad evil comes after you and you have to hide – making you actually stop playing the game for several seconds before you can progress and echolocate your way through a room. Likewise, Cassie has to stop as she listens to audio recordings and memories, ruining momentum instead of creating tension through suspense.
I think of all of the promise that this game could have had. I think of how it could have complemented the main mechanic with other gameplay devices that brought in more audio cues or more audible references to texture and touch. I think of how it harkens to the tales of the prophetess Cassandra in ancient Rome, cursed by Apollo, and how the loss of sight would have been the most interesting curse to endure in the face of dreams and visions. Then I get really angry at myself for being disappointed in this game – in a time where the games industry is starting to make real breakthroughs in inclusiveness for players with disability or impairment, I was hopeful that Perception was going to be a small siren song in the growing chorus. It’s worth a go just to show that game developers are continuing to have amazing ideas to change gameplay, but finish it as quickly as you can and move on.