It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to say everybody has a fear of the dark in some way or another. For some, just any darkness will do while others will have to be subjected to creepy sounds or unknown surroundings before they’ll admit they’re rattled. This very human fear is what Perception plays on, having the player control a blind woman who ends up in an unfamiliar house in Gloucester. Some may call the game a walking simulator, but I feel ‘narrative-heavy horror’ is a far more accurate description. Most of this comes from our protagonist, Cassie, and an event that pushed her to get on a plane in the first place. Alone in this secluded house with nothing but her cane and her phone, Cassie must explore to get to the bottom of a darker secret.
But what led Cassie to seek out this creepy house anyway? Cassie explains that a recurring nightmare featuring this exact house has plagued her for far too long and she has reached a breaking point. After figuring out where this house is, Cassie jumps on a plane and makes her way all the way to the front door of her own living nightmare. Shortly after arriving, Cassie remembers that she would always see three items in her dream: a rope, a ticket, and an apple. This is where the bulk of the mystery comes from; what do these three items have to do with the house? As a horror story, the setup is a little weak but I can say that the narrative that unfolds within the house is far more interesting. The player will slowly uncover the history behind each of the three items as they stumble through the darkness of the surprisingly large house.
At first, I wasn’t sure how on Earth I was supposed to play a game as a blind woman, but I was quickly introduced to the echolocation mechanic. By using this technique, Cassie can ‘see’ using what she hears when she steps or taps her cane. Although, if the player tries to overuse this at certain points, it seems they will be punished. Anything that makes sound also shows up for Cassie, allowing her to get a vague idea of what is around that thing. As a game mechanic, this works better than I had expected and it is clear that a lot of care went into making this portion of the game shine brighter than most others. Navigating the dark makes up most of the gameplay found in Perception, but there are also moments where the player will need to hide or solve simple ‘puzzles’ (usually by finding the solution and bringing it to the problem). More than anything, the game is designed so the player is nearly always following the fear and actively chasing the clues that lead to danger.
The horror of this title is equal parts ingenious and obnoxious. By making Cassie blind, the player is forced into an unknown environment in complete darkness, making them cautiously use echolocation to get a feeling of the area they’re in. This is compounded by the fact that the player doesn’t know if the game is set in a supernatural world or one grounded completely in reality. On the other hand, there are several moments that feel cheap or just aren’t scary for one reason or another. The best (or worst) example I can think of is this one moment when Cassie is jumpscared by a creepy doll standing right in front of her after one of her steps. My issue with this (beyond being a jumpscare) is that Cassie ‘sees’ this doll for a split second before it vanishes. How did she know it suddenly disappeared and why did that scare her when other similarly shaped/sized objects didn’t? The idea of jumpscaring a blind person is just a little too far-fetched for me. The only thing I can imagine would make this make sense would be some heavy paranoia. It’s not as if Cassie’s surroundings are creepy as hell or anything.
Since Cassie can’t see the house around her, she will have to hear it instead. Luckily, the team behind the sound in Perception took great care to make each noise sounds exactly like you’d imagine. This applies to voice acting as well in the form of characters that try very hard to show their emotions through their words. Beyond this, many events are punctuated with sounds that help to highlight their importance. But mostly, the sound design allows nearly any room in the house to be anxiety-inducing. Toss in the bizarre, yet endearing way Cassie ‘sees’ the world and you can start to understand how hard it would be to keep your cool in such an environment. Even if the gameplay is a little lacking and the horror can be a little cheap, the ambience nails it and makes the game worth a playthrough on its merit alone.