Perception is a game with a unique concept. “What would it be like to play a horror game where you’re blind?” While the idea is interesting, the execution is unfortunately awful. The game, or at least its PlayStation 4 version, is a buggy mess that may make the game unfinishable for players, as it did for me. Bugs aside, the game itself isn’t very scary, and bad checkpointing makes the experience frustrating. If nothing else, Perception is worth a watch on YouTube since at least the story is decent.
Perception puts the player in control of a blind woman named Cassie. In her nightmares, she sees a mansion and eventually goes to investigate it in the real world. The game’s four chapters take place within that mansion as Cassie tries to uncover why she was summoned there.
Being a horror game, the mansion is haunted. Cassie has to navigate using her cane and smartphone while avoiding the evil Presence along the way. Much like Outlast, the gameplay eschews combat in favor of hiding in various places.
Right off the bat, the player will notice the art style; the world is dark, but tapping with Cassie’s cane allows her to “see” via echolocation, and objects in her immediate area are temporarily outlined in blue (or green if they are important). The concept is interesting and forces the player to slow down to navigate the mansion. As one would expect, the sound design is pretty good; Cassie has finely tuned ears that carry sounds over to the player in the specific directions from which she heard them.
Aside from those high points, everything else in Perception ranges from average to abysmal.
The story, based on historical events, begins with very little exposition; instead, it throws the player in without really explaining what’s going on. The player has to piece the story together as he or she goes along, and not in a clever “Aha!” sort of way, but rather in a frustrating “What on Earth is going on?” sort of way. Despite that, the middle and conclusion are better told, and the real-world tie-in is interesting. The voice acting is surprisingly good for an indie game, even if the scripting occasionally isn’t.
The gameplay itself becomes stale over time. Having to tap to understand one’s surroundings is a teachable moment: the mansion is a labyrinth, and I certainly feel empathy for those who struggle daily to adapt to new surroundings. While it’s a good concept for educational purposes, it doesn’t make for a fun game mechanic after hours of fumbling around in the dark, trying to figure out which doorway is the right one.
Combine that with the fact that the more the player taps, the more likely The Presence is to appear. It creates a frustrating Catch 22. Then, if/when The Presence captures the player, there’s no telling where the checkpoint system will respawn Cassie. The game saves infrequently, and there’s not a manual save feature. Since it’s tough to make sense of one’s surroundings after a respawn, it can be tough to figure out what objectives were saved and which have to be re-done. Sometimes, the game sets the player back a solid five to ten minutes, made longer by the inherent need to fumble around to re-orient.
Worse still, for a horror game, Perception isn’t even scary. And this is coming from somebody who dreads horror. I jumped only a couple times throughout the game. The jumpscares are badly placed and seem shoehorned in, making them appear more laughable than scary. Items just pop onto the screen at random with no entrance animation; they just appear with a little music. Instead of being scared, I often found myself confused as to whether the item was supposed to be scary or appeared by mistake.
On that note, there are also countless bugs. Again, maybe this is exclusive to the PS4 version of the game, but the bugs make Perception unfinishable. Lesser bugs are capable of freezing Cassie and disabling all of her abilities. Greater bugs, like in the game’s final chapter, result in the entire mansion becoming corrupted.
Imagine the Minecraft home of a five-year-old who isn’t very detail-oriented. Now blow it up with TNT. That’s what the mansion becomes.
Doors pop up in the middle of floors. Some floors have gaping holes in them. One corridor has no roof. One floor is so jagged and uneven that the player becomes trapped in it. There’s a stairwell that’s much the same. Some of the mansion’s outer walls disappear, and the player can exit without having a way to get back in. Checkpoints and cutscenes can be triggered out of order. Ultimately, the player is led down a path that cannot be passed, making it impossible to progress through the last 20-30 minutes of the game.
Maybe the abomination that the mansion becomes is an uncommon issue, but it doesn’t excuse the other bugs I found, like one in the third chapter that forced me to reload and try several times before I gave up and went to YouTube for the answer. In the YouTube playthrough I referenced, that player encountered the same issue, but on the PC version of the game. That tells me there are bugs in the original PC version that also made it onto the console versions, even though those versions were already delayed and launched a week later. The developers apparently opted to launch versions of the game they must’ve known were broken rather than postponing the launches further to fix the issues first.
Ultimately, the frustrating gameplay and game-breaking bugs made playing Perception a waste of my time. It would have been faster, easier and much more enjoyable to watch a playthrough on YouTube and let another player suffer on my behalf. Not even being able to reach the game’s conclusion for myself was the icing on top of a proverbial burnt, flavorless cake.