It is not often in games that you play a character with a disability. On the contrary, many avatars possess physical gifts beyond that of common human beings or they are enhanced by special tools and/or instruments. This is where Deep End Games’ Perception greatly differs. Even more surprisingly for a visual medium, it is a first-person 3D horror game whose protagonist, Cassie, is a blind woman who uses echolocation to move around. This means that she determines where objects are in space via sound waves either naturally created or by tapping her cane on the ground. When the sound waves hit an object, they produce an echo and display its approximate shape and outline, thus allowing her to perceive her surroundings. Unfortunately, while this premise is ambitious and ideally suited to a tense horror scenario, it’s not enough to save a gameplay experience that soon becomes repetitive and clumsy and a storyline that is full of plot holes.
The game offers two modes: Chatty Cassie, in which the protagonist comments much more throughout, and Silent Night, in which she offers only essential observations. That’s a welcome option, but the problems start early on no matter the mode. Before the actual game begins, the backstory is that Cassie visits a deserted mansion that she has been seeing in her nightmares – alone. I understand that Perception belongs to the horror genre and has to build on the feeling of remoteness and desolation, but I cannot accept that any sane person would step foot in such a scary abode by themselves. Many a time it is stressed how Cassie refuses to refrain from things just because she is blind, which is of course a positive message. However, here it is not a matter of discrimination but plain stupidity. It is like any horror film when the heroine walks totally unaware in the direction of the killer while you are screaming at her from your couch not to go there. What is even worse in this case is that you have to play the role of the imbecile character and make the best out of the mess they have put you into.
If this were a comedy game, then by all means. Alas, in horror, to achieve the level of suspension of disbelief needed, one has to take the story seriously and by decreasing the reasoning capacity of the protagonist for the sake of convenience and lack of ingenuity is completely counterproductive. I could never overlook this inexplicable plot hole, which is followed by others right up to the grand finale, and the reactions of the heroine continually make no sense. Soon it is revealed that the mansion is haunted by a nameless presence – what a surprise. Nevertheless, Cassie still does not want to leave, but instead chooses to stay and solve the mystery of the house’s appearance in her nightmares. She also challenges the presence in the house and has a bold attitude that shows she is not scared by it at all. Then how can the player be scared?
This is the point at which the gameplay takes a turn for the worse. Having a blind main character that depends on sound to find her way around an unfamiliar space while trying to make as little noise as possible for fear of revealing her whereabouts is a potentially terrifying basis for a challenging and highly strategic game. Sadly, Perception is far from that. Before long you will come to understand that there is no reason to be afraid. There are only a few instances when you have to remain quiet. During the rest of the game you can tap your cane as much as you want with no consequence. In reality, you will be obliged to, since there is no other way to know where you are going. So, an idea that in theory would have worked nicely, in actuality is translated into a nuisance with boring and repetitive in-game actions.
Instead of feeling alone and helpless, you end up feeling annoyed and disoriented. This is made worse by the fact that interaction points can be reactivated multiple times. So, for example, you may believe you have finally found a new clue only to realize that you are hearing the same audio file that you came across sometime before. In addition to that, you will find multiple tape players – or other voice recording devices – lying randomly around the house for no other reason than to provide backstory. They are not incorporated into the setting, thus the believability of the game is shattered once more, despite apparently being inspired by true events.
The story itself is not very inventive, typical of what you might expect from a haunted mansion. What I do like is how the game takes you back in time following the history of the house – except this too is never justified by the narrative; you just have to go with it. You start by uncovering the mystery of the last tenants, only to discover that the haunting really started much earlier. The game not only progressively reveals this framing construction, but accompanies it with matching design, like the furniture of the house being transformed according to the era in which each individual storyline is set. This external journey back in time is simultaneously an internal exploration for our protagonist, who at the end of the game can finally make the connection between herself and the house, between history and memory, and between the past and the present.
If we interpret Perception as an allegory of the quest against physical obstacles and personal fears, then it is successful enough. Especially because the whole basis of the game – the haunting of the house – is revealed to have been caused by the predisposition we all have to label people easily and often wrongly, with the accompanying repercussions of such prejudice. Both for Cassie and the lingering presence in the house, the power of social conventions and stereotypes is immense, to the point of creating self-imposed barriers each must struggle to overcome. In Cassie’s case, if everyone believes that a blind person cannot live an independent life, they end up not being able to live an independent life. So too does the spectre have its own tale that led to the house becoming a prison of pain.Continued on the next page...