Darkness is a key aspect of almost any good horror game. It can be terrifying not to know just what is lurking just beyond a campfire’s warm glow, or behind a locked door, or underneath a bed. Perception takes that idea to the ultimate extreme and plunges both the character and the player into a world of total darkness, with the high-concept idea of “What if we made a narrative adventure, but the character is blind?” It was certainly worth a look, but the concept itself becomes a drag on almost any real enjoyment.

Our blind protagonist, Cassie, has been haunted with dreams of a certain mansion for quite some time. After thorough research, she manages to track down the abandoned abode and makes a trek to explore the place herself. The house quickly closes itself up, meaning the only way out is to solve the mystery of just what has been going on. There’s a tortured history to the place and Cassie’s journey ends up being part spiritual journey with some time-shifting elements thrown in. And a spooky presence known as…The Presence…which haunts her steps.

Boo

Boo

The game starts out well enough as it introduces the idea that Cassie can’t see and thus neither can you. But all is not lost as she has the Daredevil-like quality to use a form of echolocation. The darkness lights up with bright blues wherever a sound is made, be it wind sweeping across a stony path or a fire crackling in the fireplace. Cassie’s footsteps also illuminate a very small area around her, but things really light up when she smacks her cane against a surface, making a large area bright and clear for several seconds.

Exploring the house in the first half hour or so is intriguing as you shift from room to room (interactive objects like doors are lit in green instead of blue), but the appeal slowly chips away once it becomes clear that this is how the entire 4-hour journey is going to proceed. Without a real good look at any room, it’s actually quite difficult to get a mental layout of the area, and it doesn’t help that things begin shifting around throughout the story. One spot in the game had me looking for 3 different objects at the same time and I had no clue where to begin. Cassie does have a special “sense” that allows you to see where your next goal is located, but it can often be behind locked doors, up or down stairs, etc.

As Cassie explores the house, she’s tasked with solving a number of different mysteries from different time periods. There are some interesting ideas in place here. As Cassie cannot read notes, she must use a special text-to-speech app on her phone, and occasionally she snaps a photo for a live volunteer to help out. Counter to these bits, though, are when Cassie finds some featureless object and must stare at it for a good 15 seconds while she “listens” to a memory. The stories themselves are not terrible, but the performances are a bit bland to really garner interest. Aside from stumbling around trying to find the right place to go and how to get there, there’s almost no puzzle-solving to be done.

Stationary audiologs - the greatest thing about exploration video games, am I right?

Stationary audiologs – the greatest thing about exploration video games, am I right?

And so we throw in The Presence to provide a sense of danger in the exploration. Soon after entering the house, a warning states that making too much noise might attract enemies. Sure enough, tapping the cane can summon the evil spirit, but only if actively trying to do so. On my first attempt, it took over 50 whacks to call the Presence, and that’s without any sort of cooling off. Hiding spaces are ample, so it’s not difficult to flee when it does arrive, save for one particular section in a wide-open field…though at that point it was more irritating than frightening.

Despite its initial appeal, Perception’s main mechanic just leaves a lot to be desired. It seems a shame that a team of Bioshock level designers went through the effort of creating stages that are impossible to really see outside of a handful of moments, especially given that it shifts around in a way that seems like it would make for some unique aesthetic choices. It’s a necessary trade-off, of course, for the unique idea but the pay-off doesn’t really live up to the sacrifices that had to be made.

KAIJU VERDICT

1/4 Pops:  Weak  One pop games may be functional, and enjoyable to some, but not the reviewer. Mechanical or conceptual failings make them impossible to recommend.

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