Fans of chilling gameplay have been spoilt with fantastic survival horror experiences over the last few years, from Red Barrels' anxiety-ridden trip to a mental institution in 2013's Outlast, to being stalked by a perfect organism in Creative Assembly's Alien: Isolation in 2014, to the resurgence of Resident Evil earlier this year. The Deep End Games, a new studio founded by veterans with major AAA experience from games like Bioshock and Deep Space, tries to carry on this trend of great survival horror, but stumbles along the way.
Perception puts the player in the shoes of Cassie, a blind woman who luckily has the ability to map out her surroundings by using echolocation, a bit like Daredevil if you will. The player learns that Cassie has had nightmares for some time and she needs to find the mansion of her nightmares to make them stop. How she learns where it is located and how she gets there isn't part of the narrative, but she makes it there. Perception makes use of one of the oldest clichés in horror to start things off, and it makes for more questions than immersion.
As Cassie stands next to the door leading into the mansion of her dreams (or should that be nightmares) the player learns the ropes in terms of the mechanics, and the echolocation mechanics stand out here. As Cassie can't see, she uses sound to navigate. These sounds can be a howling wind, or vapour escaping from busted pipes or radiators, her footsteps, clocks, or the sound of her cane as it hits various surfaces. The last item is controlled by the player through pressing the right trigger, and you can use it at your leisure to navigate. The sounds are manifested as pulsating white and blue outlines against a black backdrop on furniture, floors, walls, and ceilings, and it allows players to find their way before the outlines fade and darkness return. To see you need sound, and the more noise that's made the clearer your surroundings become.
In addition to the pulsating outlines there are a few different special outlines, or landmarks if you will, that are indicated by their green colouring. Among these are larger door frames and fireplaces. These have been placed there to help players with navigation, something that's needed as it's easy to walk in circles when everything looks pretty much the same and there are no colours to help you sort the rooms. Something else that helps with navigation is the objective guide that you can conjure up by pressing the left trigger. This will pull Cassie's attention to an object that you need to interact with in order to progress.
Once you've learned to navigate, move and "see" with the assistance of Cassie's super powers, the game lets you explore the expansive mansion. You knock on the door and Cassie says "I know no-one is there, but I knock anyway", before opening the door and entering her nightmare on her own. The game takes you through corridors and tasks you with interacting with objects to see other people tied to the mansion and gain insights into their misfortunes, with their mysteries all loosely tied together. However, there is one aspect of these mysteries that is really well-crafted.
As Cassie can't look at her surroundings she's got her phone with her throughout the adventure, and it comes in very handy. If Cassie finds a piece of paper (naturally a paper of some importance), she can scan the paper with her phone and send it on so that someone can call her back and read what it says. These are, apart from some strange calls to Cassie's presumed boyfriend, some of the only bits of voice acting that you're treated to, while the rest consists of bite-sized 20-second bursts from spirits or Cassie's internal monologue (the player can choose to tone down the latter in the options).
Some way into the adventure you face the main villain of the game, The Presence, who manifests in various ways throughout the adventure (first as a ghost, only to next take the shape of a doll with a gun), and this is where Perception loses its focus. This malevolent being is attracted to sounds and races to kill Cassie if she bangs her cane too frenetically or runs too far on the hardwood floors. If this spirit is chasing you the white and blue outlines shift to red and you're encouraged to hide. There are a limited number of hideouts, but you fairly quickly work out that you don't need to use them in order to escape certain death by the spirit (which really only sends you back to the latest checkpoint anyway). It's enough to crouch down and move on. The Presence is therefore rather easy to avoid and it feels a bit contrived. It almost feels like an afterthought, that it was originally a "walking sim", but that a monster was added later on.
Perception offers a couple of unique ideas and they're spread over a few hours via a selection of different stories that take place in this haunted mansion. Sadly the narrative isn't very engaging, you easily lose yourself in the monochrome mansion, the voice acting is middling at best, and the malevolent spirit is easy to avoid and escape. There was great potential here, with lots of great ideas, but ultimately it feels like they've been wasted.