Perception Review

By Mark Delaney, 1 month ago
Despite their excellence as separate entities, the creeping atmosphere of horror and the story-centric delivery of walking sims don't blend well together. The horror loses its luster because you know the walking sim DNA makes such a hybrid game so mechanically sparse that the scares never feel genuine. Like a haunted house at an amusement park, a walking sim horror may make you feel uneasy, but it's hard to forget you're not in any real danger. I have yet to find a walking sim horror that delivers both story and scares; they always sacrifice the latter in favor of the former. Perception comes from the minds of BioShock and Dead Space alums, but even this impressive pedigree can't help the game break away from the pack of games that have recently tried to deliver such a mix, although Perception is among the best of that bunch.

perception

Perception tells the story of Cassie, a young blind woman who is haunted in her dreams of a house in the fishing community of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Objects, voices, and an overwhelming sense of dread visit her night after night, so much so that she eventually flies to New England to unravel the mystery of the estate. The walking sim aspect of Perception promises a story-heavy experience and it's with this narrative that the indie game presents itself most favorably.

Cassie is by no means a silent protagonist (although you can lessen her vocal input if you weirdly prefer) and through both her input and the many objects laying about the Echo Bluff estate, a long and violent history of the home is told. Cassie suffers from the common trope of talking way too much to herself so that we may follow along as the audience and players, and that's too bad. Sometimes that hand-holding is forgivable, but in Cassie's case she is often reiterating what the game's navigation and HUD is already saying.

The feeling of walking around a presumably empty house collecting notes, tapes, and other clues is a familiar path to walk for those that play games in the genre, but Perception's most notable addition is its visuals. As mentioned, Cassie is blind and thus relies on echolocation to find her way around. The entire game is presented almost in monochrome, with different shades of bluish gray making up almost all of what the player sees when seeing anything at all — total darkness is also quite common. The game also helps you locate doorways and other important landmarks by highlighting them in green, which is a less than immersive solution, unfortunately.

The audio-visual design is well done, but it loses some luster due to the glowing green objects.The audio-visual design is well done, but it loses some luster due to the glowing green objects.

Tapping Cassie's cane will give you a moment of visualization to scout the area for objects needed to advance the plot. In theory, you don't want to tap too often as doing so invites the malevolent spirit that haunts the grounds. It being attracted to noise, you may initially feel like you need to keep your navigation by cane to a minimum, but in a four hour playthrough the spirit rarely, if ever, comes looking outside of scripted moments. When it does look for you, it's usually easy to find a hiding spot like a bed or closet. Entering a hiding spot also seems to abruptly undo the ghost's presence. It becomes an instant solution that makes the ghoul seldom scary and easily thwarted.

With such focus on echolocation and story, a high bar for sound design was set and then vaulted over. Although most of the characters are overacted, the sounds of Echo Bluff are impressive, especially with headphones on. Ambient noises, distant voices, and occasional music set a proper scene for the haunted house tale. It's too bad the looming threat of the ghost is never realized because it would make for both a great walking sim and a great horror. It's actually a bit confusing to know if Perception is as scary as intended or only thinks it is. Given the abundance of hiding spots around the house but scarcity of emergent spooky moments, it seems the latter is where reality is found; it's slightly tense at times, but really Perception only succeeds at sharing a good mystery.

For a crowdfunded indie, the game was impressively bug-free... until the end. The fourth and final chapter presented a problem where the house's geometry didn't load outside of doors and some furniture. Thankfully, necessary stairwells and items all still appeared, so the game's final chapter could be finished by running through a house full of doors that sprouted from the ground but weren't connected to any walls. This issue does not always appear and it's possible it doesn't happen to you; if it does, it's not game-breaking, only totally immersion-breaking.

A few tropes are in play, but overall Perception tells a story worth experiencing.A few tropes are in play, but overall Perception tells a story worth experiencing.

The achievement list is another of those where the descriptions vaguely hint at what you need to do. Outside of a few story unlocks and two that will be a bit more challenging (never get caught by the spirit and beat the game without using your cane), the others are cryptic. There's an achievement to get all the others and you'll want to look out for every story-focused collectible (touchstone) in all four of the game's chapters to really maximize your gamerscore. Two people on site have all but two achievements: to find every touchstone and to unlock the rest of the list. There may be unobtainables, as in both cases these players have unlocked all the touchstones in individual chapters but not the achievement for doing so as a whole. Then again, there may be story reasons they both missed this last pair that I shouldn't spoil here. If you'll avoid a game because it can't be completed, tread lightly until you're sure these aren't glitched.

Summary

Perception is the latest in a recent run of walking sim horrors to try and deliver a satisfying game in each genre. It's also the latest game to lend evidence to the theory that these two genres simply don't mesh well. Perception tells an intriguing story and if that's enough for you, it's worth playing. Its audio-visual experience is also unlike anything else and if you're looking for a fresh idea, The Deep End Games' debut is worth supporting. It's important to keep in mind, however, if you expect the game to also scare you, there's nothing to see here.
3 / 5
Positives
  • A mystery worth unraveling
  • Great sound design
Negatives
  • Bugs in chapter four won't appear for all players but are quite damaging if they do
  • Scares don't deliver
  • Some genre tropes hurt the storytelling
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent four hours in the Echo Bluff estate, evading malevolent spirits and bugs alike while unraveling a story mostly worth his time. He unlocked nine of 32 achievements along the way. An Xbox One copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of the review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancé and son. He almost never writes in the third person.