Review: Perception knows what scares you

Perception (The Deep End Games) is an intriguing and tantalizing tapestry of terror that marries a rich story with innovative game play. It’s genuinely scary because it knows what scares you the most: you.

Many modern horror games are still largely based upon tedious, tired tropes built with walls of blood and gore, cheap jump scares, and frantic quick time events. Even at their best they rarely escape the confines of these well-worn building blocks. And often, they funnel you into contrived, linear experiences consisting of trial-and-error game play that is more frustrating than it is terrifying. Look no further than The Evil Within and Outlast 2 for examples.

A good horror game can be built with familiar mechanics. Good game play can compensate for a bad story, and a good story can compensate (to a more limited degree) for bad game play.

But a good horror game should have a compelling story and deliver the scares. Perception succeeds at both—and aside from a minor quirks, everything else in between.

Perception breaks the mold

Perception prioritizes telling a good story with strong characters, and creating a tense, chilling atmosphere in which to experience all of it. It may not be the most terrifying horror game, but the quality of its narrative and the chilling virtual canvas on which it’s painted complement each other in a nearly perfect balance.

You play as a young blind woman named Cassie, who is mysteriously drawn to an abandoned mansion called Echo Bluff. Feeling a strange connection to Echo Bluff, Cassie investigates it to uncover what happened there throughout its very storied past.

Though blind, Cassie is gifted with powerful hearing and the ability to echo-locate using her cane to generate sound waves. She is also equipped with a smartphone with a text-to-speech app (for reading notes), and another App that taps into a community where someone can describe pictures taken of objects Cassie can’t see. There are also recorded messages  in places that provide clues to past events.

Perception-Win64-Shipping 2017-06-25 21-07-22-77The Presence

Perception slowly builds up tension, then maintains it at a nice ‘medium’ setting. It largely achieves this by keeping you in the dark (literally and figuratively), firing up your imagination, and letting you scare yourself.

You’ll rarely see anything terrifying, but Echo Bluff—well, Echo Bluff kind of talks to you. The game’s brilliant sound design continually hints at what may just be beyond the edges of your perception. Furthermore, the game never makes it entirely clear whether those sounds are an actual threat. But there is something. There is always something.

At the center of it all is an unknown presence in the house, and every time you tap your cane to echo-locate and reveal your surroundings, The Presence will gradually hone in on your position. If you get too close to The Presence, the screen colors change from blue outlines to red and yellow, at which point you’d best run like hell and find a place to hide.

Perception‘s threats are not idle, either. The Presence can and will kill you.

You’ll rarely ever even see The Presence. But you will hear it constantly moving somewhere in the distance, or perhaps closer, just out of sight in the shadows beyond your echo location. You will hear it in the distance as it hunts through the house, stalking you by sound from the shadows.

And when it speaks, it speaks in a distorted, almost alien voice—usually just repeating something Cassie said, as if it’s somehow trying to communicate. I don’t know why, but this alien, almost curious quality makes it far scarier than if it just spewed taunting phrases like “I’m coming for you.”

But Perception isn’t a frantically paced game. You probably won’t die often (although I died a handful of times), but you will play in perpetual fear of The Presence while exploring the sinister secrets of Echo Bluff.

Regardless, Perception‘s threats are not idle, either. The Presence can and will kill you.

Presence Door

You will know fear—and love it.  

I don’t want to spoil the game’s story, but Cassie uncovers more than one. They are all interconnected, and revealed in fragments that will keep you guessing but never confuse you. Many horror games use this technique., but few succeed at it as well as Perception does.

In other words, you’ll enjoy uncovering the story and you will understand everything byt the end of the game. Perception intrigues from the beginning, and I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of the writing.  The voice acting—a frequent stumbling point for smaller indie-titles—is also excellent.

Perception touches on familiar horror themes but never feels derivative, and it is truly creepy without resorting to cheap scares, tired tropes, or pointless over-the-top gore.

I mentioned Outlast 2 earlier in the review because I reviewed it recently, and the contrast of Outlast 2 with Perception helps illustrate what makes Perception so successful:

  • Perception thrusts you into the dark and relies upon subtlety and sound design to suggest the horrors lurking beyond the shadows. It lets you enjoy the thrills and story in equal measure as told through the ‘eyes’ (ears) of a believable, strong, capable young woman. It has a good story and a satisfying ending.
  • Outlast 2  hits you in the face with a screaming, bleeding, wailing pie of monkeys and cat scares. There’s an interesting sub-story buried in it, but it’s ultimately so drowned in tropes and blood gravy that it becomes tedious and almost a parody of itself.

Overall: 8/10 — highly recommended!

pcgame-examiner-editor-choice

Perception touches on familiar horror themes but never feels derivative, and it is truly creepy without resorting to cheap scares, tired tropes, or pointless over-the-top gore.

Aside from a minor bug and some slightly wonky checkpoints, I found little to complain about and lots to love. If you’re a fan of horror games with great stories and taut thrills, I highly recommend checking out Perception.

Perception Steam Page

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