Developer: The Deep End
Publisher: The Deep End
Format(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Ever played a video game where you’re blind and have to make your way through a creepy house? Me neither, but that’s the premise of Perception – the narrative-driven creepy title from developers The Deep End that released on PC and consoles earlier in the year, but has now made its way to the Nintendo Switch.
Don’t worry about the whole ‘blind’ thing though – you won’t be playing the game in complete darkness from start to end. Instead, protagonist Cassie uses ‘Echolocation’ to get around, which involves sound bouncing off objects and reflecting back to you… think something along the lines of sonar or how bats identify their surroundings.
This makes for a unique gameplay mechanic that certainly helps Perception stand out. Whilst it’s a clever idea that works well with the premise of the game though, it doesn’t go a long way in changing up much else from a gameplay perspective.
Perception puts you into the shoes of Cassie Thornton, a blind girl who keeps having harrowing dreams about a mansion that she’d never seen or visited before. She finds out more about the mansion and travels there in a bid to find out why it’s affecting her so much and what connection it has to her life, but ends up uncovering some spine-tingling secrets and an evil entity known as ‘The Presence’.
One thing that I appreciated about Perception was that it offered multiple ways to play it that cater for any audience. When you start the game, you have three options available: ‘Story’, ‘Spooky’, and ‘Scary’.
When playing in Story you simply see the narrative unfold with no threat made to your life. This is essentially the ‘walking sim’ experience, with the player simply exploring the house and unraveling the tales that are found within it. On the other hand, Spooky introduces a threat to the player known as The Presence that’ll hunt you down throughout the house. If it gets you, you’ll go back to the entrance of the house but will retain all progress that you’ve made. Those who like a punishing challenge can tackle Scary mode, which plays just like Spooky but instead sends you back to the main menu if The Presence gets you. I opted to play on Spooky, but the options are there to have the experience that best suits you.
Playing in Story mode is certainly a viable way to play though, with the narrative certainly doing enough to hook you in throughout. I like a spooky story and you certainly get that here, with Perception consisting of four tales of previous residents of the house that intertwine with Cassie’s experiences. As you venture through the house you’ll unlock different items that tell you more about the history of the place, whilst it also constantly changes up aesthetically too so you’re always seeing something new, some of which isn’t necessarily anachronistically accurate but works well from a story-telling perspective. Everything left me guessing throughout and I liked seeing each little tale through to its conclusion – even if some of them had a more satisfying ending than others.
Of course, the fact that Cassie is blind means that… well… you’re not supposed to be able to see anything. Perception handles this in a clever way though, with the environment around you taking on a ghostly look that you’ll only be able to make out the outline of when you tap your cane. There are blurs of vibrant colours to be found amongst the outlines, but in all it adopts a simplistic look that offers a clever representation of echolocation.
The only issue I had with this representation of the world was that it quickly fades back away into darkness, with the player having to keep tapping the cane if they want to take a constant look at the world around them. Whilst I can appreciate that it’s one of the gameplay hooks and that it’s also pretty clever, I like to search around every nook and cranny of an area when playing these kinds of narrative-driven exploration titles – having to tap my cane every time I wanted to do so could just grow a little tiring. Maybe that’s just me being fussy, though.
Cassie has a few useful methods to deal with the fact that she’s blind besides using echolocation, with a text-to-speech app helping her read anything that’s in the environment and a contact that’ll describe anything that she’s taken a photo of to her. There are plenty of audio logs to be found too, whilst specific items known as ‘Touchstones’ help her hear the thoughts of previous residents of the house.
It’s a neat way to present the narrative-focused elements of the game, especially since you’re blind, but when it boils down to it you’re not doing anything that you wouldn’t have done before in any other similar title – it’s just that it’s presented differently because you’re blind. I don’t know if I expected a few more neat ideas interlaced into gameplay because of this, but I did feel a little underwhelmed at times that most of the mechanics were simply tied to the game’s aesthetic rather than the fundamentals that make it work.
The aforementioned Presence that lingers around the house is essentially the villain of the tale, with it linked to the narrative in multiple ways. Depending on what mode you choose to play on, it’ll affect gameplay a lot too, with it hunting down Cassie if she uses her cane too much. You can’t fight it off though and instead have to seek out a hiding place if you want to evade its malicious grasp.
My experience with The Presence was a bit of a mixed bag though. Perception is by no means trying to be an outright horror game in the same vein of the likes of Outlast, so I can understand that the game isn’t built entirely around being pursued by the creature. However, it could feel like a bit of a pain when I was being punished for constantly using what is one of the game’s main features.
I suppose that I made the problem for myself by opting to play on the game’s Spooky mode, but I wish The Presence was utilised in a more thoughtful way. Having it hunt you down when you used your cane too much proved frustrating, but if it was specifically set up in co-ordination with set pieces in the game it would’ve been a bit more effective at providing genuinely chilling moments. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always bad and I did enjoy the thrill of the pursuit here and there, but not when it would directly affect the exploration mechanics of the game.
They always say that if you lose one of your senses, your others will see a vast improvement – I think that’s certainly the case in Perception, with the audio design of the game absolutely on point. There’s plenty of different noises to hear around you, some of which would typically be subtle but stand out a lot more when you don’t necessarily know what’s around you. Even the faintest of creaks would creep me out when playing the game, and I’d always be wary of what I was going to see the next time I gave the ground a crack with my cane. It’s a clever effect and showed that Perception can be eerie without always having to resort to cheap tactics.
Whilst Perception’s spine-chilling narrative adventure doesn’t do anything overly spectacular throughout its four-hour runtime, it did offer something unique with its use of echolocation gameplay. I haven’t played anything quite like it and whilst the core gameplay mechanics will probably feel familiar to anyone who has played a walking simulator before, the neat little touches that the use of echolocation brings ensures that you’ll be intrigued enough to see it through to its end.
Admittedly, you’re probably not going to be too blown away by anything that Perception does and it also has a few frustrating moments here and there, but its clever mechanics and intriguingly chilling tale certainly make it worth checking out if you’re a fan of the genre.