Your perception of Perception as a horror game will go a long way towards fully enjoying the experience it offers. It’s more a first-person adventure game with horror elements where developer The Deep End Games uses lead character Cassie Thornton’s blindness as a means of both physical and mental exploration.
Cassie is drawn by recurring nightmares to abandoned mansion Echo Bluff and as she’s completely blind, her own perceptions are being challenged. The unconventional visual presentation, use of echolocation, and mix of mystery and time travel are all plus points here. There are flaws as well, but for the most part the 5 to 6 hours you’ll spend as Cassie should please the more open-minded horror/mystery adventure game fans out there.
Cassie’s trip through the seemingly empty mansion is hampered by the presence of The Presence, not so nice angry spirits (who don’t bring presents, by the way) that change up the initially tap-happy caning she does into memorizing rooms and whacking objects as little as possible. While this adds tension to the experience, some parts of the game end up being learning experiences thanks to an auto-save system that forces slight to moderate backtracking and replaying areas if you end up getting Presenced to death.
In other words, you’ll likely need to unlearn your first half hour or so of gameplay and rely on memory and/or using an optional guidance system that points you in the proper direction while still allowing exploration. That said, some of the game’s scares are somewhat avoidable by popping into assorted hiding spaces until trouble passes while others may make you jump a bit based on your level of immersion. Of course, if you’re not easily frightened, the game may seem light on scares unless you want to encounter them.
The story ends up being the hook here with the gameplay ending up less challenging once you get used to the times it wants to throw a few monkey wrenches at you. Puzzle elements are simplified in favor of quicker solutions (pay attention to everything Cassie interacts with), but the game later has Cassie snapping cellphone pics in order to interact by phone with a character who describes what she’s shot. It’s a move that seems to more show off that sort of app existing in real life as well as a means to pad out the game a tiny bit, but I guess if there’s ever a movie version, you’ll have the quirky digital sidekick part already done.
The best way to get the most out of Perception is to (wait for it)… go in blind. There’s a depth here that really needs to be appreciated as well as enough research that will go over the heads of some gamers. Again, your mileage may vary, but as long as you go into the game not expecting the next Outlast, Resident Evil or Silent Hill, you’ll very likely enjoy what’s here, warts and all. As Cassie moves through the game’s chapters you’ll see her deal with everything from her own issues to some kooky ticked off dolls that make for a jarring change of pace when they start popping up.
If you liked games such as Anna: Extended Edition, Gone Home, or more recently, The Town of Light, go add Perception to that lineup if you want another game with similar vibes. For those of you who realize a good game is like a good book you go back to every so often for a re-reading, you’ll very likely like this one more than you’d think.
Score: C+ (79%)
(Review code provided by the publisher)