Alone In The Dark
HIGH The bubble wrap room.
LOW The echolocation hook doesn’t build to anything satisfying.
WTF Why doesn’t Cassie’s voice produce sound waves?
If I had to guess, I’d reckon “Come up with a unique hook!” is in chapter one of every videogame development handbook. Perhaps it’s taught in week one at Digipen. It’s apt, of course. An ambitious game should probably try to do something new, something fresh… something unique to give it an identity and a reason to be played. Otherwise it would be just like every other entry in its genre.
The Deep End Games took a hook and ran with it for their debut, Perception. This new studio featuring former Bioshock and Dead Space developers (among others) definitely produced something I’ve never played before — first-person narrative horror featuring a blind protagonist.
Cassie is the star of the show, and she’s been having visions of a remote estate lately. She’s unsure what her ties are to this mansion, but after it haunts her one too many times, she sets off to explore it in an attempt to put her mind at ease.
Because Cassie is blind, Perception uses an echolocation feature to let players ‘see’ the environment. If players stand still and there are no ambient sounds, the screen remains black. However, pushing a button causes Cassie to tap her walking cane wherever the reticle is pointed, which creates a brief cascade of sound waves that silhouette every object in her surroundings. Other noises, such as footsteps, radios, TVs or (gulp!) mysterious threats can also cause sound waves to echo off the walls. Interestingly, according to trophy information, it’s possible to complete the story without using cane taps at all for truly determined players who think echolocation offers too much visual information.
When I started Perception, I was intrigued. A scene near the opening shows Cassie walking up the path to the estate, and the harsh winds blowing around the grounds provide constant echolocation on everything. It’s a beautiful scene and showcases exactly what her senses are capable of. However, Perception is more than happy to show off this unique hook without building on it in interesting ways.
For example, most of my experiences involved stumbling around in the dark and having a difficult time getting a grasp on the environment’s layout. Over the course of the story, Cassie explores the lives of several different generations who’ve lived in the estate, so each chapter represents a slightly different version of the home. Despite spending almost all my time in the same house, I still struggled to get around and to remember what was where.
Because I’ve never been visually impaired in the way Cassie is, I can’t tell if this is an accurate representation of how blindness feels or if it’s off in designer la-la land. I certainly felt blind while playing it, but I also felt frustrated. Ultimately, Perception is a supernatural thriller, so I don’t get the sense The Deep End Games is trying to produce some kind of remarkable social commentary on the state of being blind. I also didn’t expect the game to magically grant Cassie her sight back by the finale, but Perception doesn’t take the mechanic in any interesting directions.
In an effort to aid in navigation, Perception’s house features some landmarks — fireplaces, certain doors, staircases — that glow a different color and remain visible longer than usual if Cassie taps on them with her cane. Although I appreciate this nod toward something approximating a mapping system, seeing a fireplace floating two floors above me doesn’t help me find it when the rest of the screen is black.
Beyond simple navigation challenges, I expected Perception to get creative with how blindness applied to the environment, but aside from the windy march up to the estate, only one other area enamored me. At one point Cassie encounters a room that appears to be in the process of being unpacked and bubblewrap is everywhere. Because every step causes bubbles to pop, the room remained lit longer than usual and prompted a dose of fear when the constant sound lured an enemy over. This combination of being visually impaired and the knowledge that something was becoming alert to my presence was the highlight of Perception. Unfortunately, this sequence represents perhaps fifteen minutes of a six-hour adventure.
In terms of the story, I found Cassie’s dialogue unengaging and poorly-written. Perception follows a trend of simply thinking the more a character talks, the more interesting and relatable they’ll be. This is not the case. However, in an unexpected move, Perception actually caters to my dislike of overabundant dialogue and offers the option to silence Cassie except during plot-important moments. Even though the blindness thing is what The Deep End Games counted on to be the innovative hook, the option to make the protagonist speak less frequently is actually my favorite feature here. On one hand — great! On the other hand, giving kudos for not having to listen to mediocre dialogue couldn’t be a more backhanded compliment. (If only If I had the option to shush Drake’s smug one-liners after murdering crowds of people in Uncharted…)
By Perception’s conclusion, I’d witnessed several generations of families who’d lived in this mysterious estate, how they meshed together and found Cassie’s link to them. Some were more interesting than others, but Perception ends up dragging on for too long with too little intrigue to carry it through. Had it been half as long and experimented more with the applications of Cassie’s blindness, Perception could’ve been a fascinating experience. What I actually got was the chance to stumble around in the dark for six hours, which is about as enjoyable as it sounds.
Disclosures: This game is developed by The Deep End Games and published by Feardemic. It is currently available on Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed once. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Mature and contains violence, sexual themes and strong language. Perception is a first-person horror title with all these elements, so I would only recommend it for mature audiences.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Perception is mildly unaccommodating to hard-of-hearing players. Some audio cues and noises to frighten players pop up in the environment. I can’t imagine playing a game that’s meant to emulate a blind person’s experience without being able to hear would be very easy. Tapping the protagonist’s cane does light up an area temporarily and subtitles are optional for dialogue, but sound plays an important role. Perception wouldn’t be impossible for hearing impaired gamers, but I think it would be more difficult.
Remappable Controls: This game’s controls are not remappable. The Y Axis can be adjusted for standard or inverted controlling.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options. Because Perception emulates a blind person’s experience much of the game is pitch black with illumination through sound waves given off from footsteps, cane tapping or items making noise in the environment. The game is nearly entirely black and white, but sometimes sound waves appear in yellow, orange and red colors to signal danger.