Perception - PS4 Review

Perception is a tough one to review, because it is a relatively short game that is at its core very similar to a lot of other action/horror titles out there. However, a clever mechanic combined with a very cool visual style helps to creates some excellent atmosphere that had me holding my breath on multiple occasions. In the end these smart design choices help to elevate Perception above the sea of also-ran titles in the genre, even if it never really quite realizes its potential.

Our story follows our blind protagonist, Cassie to a remote mansion in Gloucester, MA. The setup is pretty mundane for a horror game, as Cassie has been having strange nightmares linked to this mansion for reasons she does not understand but feels compelled to explore. Female lead, stuck out in the middle of nowhere in a big creepy house? Check, check and check.

However, where Perception takes a big gamble that pays dividends more often than not is in Cassie's blindness. She has extraordinary hearing however, which allows her to echolocate - or to find objects by emitting a sound and detecting its form and location by hearing or feeling its reflections. Basically, think Daredevil. Of course, Cassie is not a specially trained martial artist from the Marvel comic book universe, but she uses a similar sense of 'seeing' a world that her eyes do not actually allow her to visualize.

This plays into Perception's greatest strength, which is a fantastic and unique visual design. When you are outdoors, walking up to the house with whistling winds that wrap their way around fence posts and around the porch of the mansion, it creates a sort of texture to the world that Cassie can navigate because her uniquely honed hearing allows those elements to resonate with her echolocation. However, the moment you step into the mansion, things are a little different. The wind is blocked off by the walls and roof of the house - though there are times a door might swing open mysteriously and introduce localized waves of movement for Cassie to sense, but by and large she is left to tap her walking stick on the floor. This sends out audio reverberations that paint a temporary picture of Cassie's surroundings in far greater width and depth than her own walking footsteps generate.

Cassie's world is generally painted in shades of black and blue, though there are times other colors are introduced to help convey a sense of danger or urgency. By and large though, the blue and black aesthetic is very pleasing, and the way that the echolocation emanates from Cassie's position outward is a neat twist on the traditional convention of player visibility. Normally in horror games, you see this mechanic portrayed as light from a candle/lantern/torch/etc. Similar to those games, overuse of the visibility mechanic draws the unwanted attention of something that will kill you. In this game, it is referred to as the Presence, and the horror gameplay is where things start to breakdown just a bit.

The Presence is an intentionally vague thing that is a little creepy, but like so much of the game is very ambiguous most of the time. The end result is something that is meant to scare you, but is less horrible and more annoying as it only really becomes a problem when you overuse your walking stick to visualize your location. Doing so encourages it to come out to play, where you're left to try and outrun/hide from it (usually in a box or some sort) where you 'peek out' until it is gone. Of course, you can forgo the use of the walking stick, which will keep the Presence completely at bay - but you'll be fumbling around in a completely black environment and missing out on the coolest aspect of the game - it's visual aesthetic.

These mechanics work more often than not, but they leave you with a sort of risk versus reward gameplay element that just never quite feels right. It works spectacularly for the first chapter, but after that the gameplay never really evolves and Perception starts to feel a bit like a one-trick pony. A very cool one-trick pony, but this lack of evolving gameplay is probably why the title rings in at such a short experience as well, which is also a bit disappointing.

Cassie's overarching narrative is really broken down into four self-contained tales. These stories feel somewhat disjointed at first, and you have to really pay attention to some of the details to fully grasp how they're all connected. None of the tales are particular standouts, but they vary from one another enough to keep the narrative pacing fresh as you move on from one chapter to the next. However, the way the stories play out is another instance of taking a familiar mechanic and turn it around just a little to fit the narrative. Like many adventure horror games, you are exploring the environment looking for items that help to move the story forward, and along the way if you are perceptive enough (pun intended) to pick up and view other objects along the way, they will help to fill in bits and pieces of the story.

Sometimes holding these items helps to play back a memory - not Cassie's but those of someone else. Other times, it is just a physical item in the world, and that works fine when Cassie is picking up something easy to identify like a doll. However, Perception has a cool mechanic where Cassie can scan something with print (like a menu) with her phone, and it has text to speech that helps her identify what it is. It is a nice way to allow Cassie to 'read' things now and again as needed.

The actual sound design is solid, with appropriate sounds as Cassie thumps her walking stick, when a door swings open of there's a howling wind gusting through a nearby door. However, the voice acting does leave a fair amount to be desired. Cassie's voice actor is only okay at best, and it is interesting that there are two audio options available. One is where Cassie babbles to herself a fair amount, with the idea that it gives you a better impression of what she is thinking, and by extension what her personality is like. This is okay for a time, but not having been a big fan of the voice actress in this, I found her monologue to be more distracting than not. The 'Silent Night' mode turns off Cassie's ramblings and only have her talking as the plot requires it. This certainly makes for a slight increase in the overall tension, because you hear more of the house's creepy environments and less of Cassie's murmurings. The memories that are also presented via voice actors fell flat for me more often than not as well. The self-contained stories might have had a little more punch if the narrative elements were conveyed with a bit more punch.

All in all Perception is a somewhat typical horror/adventure game at its core, but give credit to the development team for dressing up common mechanics and giving them a creative spin. The end result is a horror game that is has some flaws, but elevates itself from a very crowded field in its genre to something a little more unique, if not terribly memorable in the end.

Game Information

PlayStation 4
The Deep End Games
Single Player
Other Platform(s):
Xbox One

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick