From the early days of Silent Hill, Alone in the Dark and the introduction of the Resident Evil series, horror games have taken something of a step back from the limelight. With most of these games their initial appeal was that they did something new and combined it with an engrossing story line and memorable characters that you cared about. Developers at The Deep End Games, a new studio made up of veterans from triple-A titles such as Bioshock, Dead Space and Rock Band, are hoping to reinvigorate the genre with their latest project, Perception.
From the get go Perceptions premise is an intriguing one; you are cast in the role of a young girl in a haunted mansion. And she’s blind. Yes, I thought that would get your attention. The games protagonist Cassie is a young blind girl who has been plagued by nightmares of a haunted house in Gloucestershire ever since she can remember. Eventfully Cassie decides to track the house down and find out why it has such a terrifying hold on her sleeping moments. But as we said earlier, Cassie is blind. So, once at the imposing and chill inducing house she must make her way around in complete darkness. She can only ‘see’ what’s around her by the use of a clever technique called echolocation. As she taps her cane on the floor, the sound wave illuminates the immediate environment which allows Cassie to navigate her way around if only for a second or two. It’s a device we first saw in the not so successful Daredevil movie starring Ben Effleck. To prevent players from jamming their finger on the echolocation button The Deep End Games have cleverly introduced the idea of a wrath which, should you make too much noise, will hear you, track you down and kill you. Unfortunately the game omits to tell you how many times you can tap your cane before you pay the price. So, most of the time, you’ll be in the dark as to how long you have to be…well, in the dark.
As the majority of the game is spent in shadows, the in game graphics are functional rather than tasking the processing power of the next gen console. The echolocation is a nice effect as it covers the environment in a night vision style ambient hue which lasts for a couple of seconds. Other than that, the house is filled with a number of objects, many of which could have been rendered on the PS3 or the Xbox 360.
Some of these objects have memories attached to them and Cassie must listen to monologues of varying lengths in order to piece the puzzle of her haunted dreams together. Cassie also has a very handy text to speech app on her phone that allows to her read letters left lying around the house. And, when necessary, she can send images to a phone line volunteer who helps her with scenes that she couldn’t otherwise see. In order to give us some guidelines Cassie recalls that, in her dreams, she often encounters three objects: a rope, an apple and a ticket. What these objects mean and how they relate to each other make up the games plot and help give Cassie’s quest some sense of guidance.
At the beginning of the game, you are asked whether you want to hear all of Cassie’s dialogue or turn them off. A strange choice we thought. But, after a few hours playing Perception, it all became clear. Cassie talks a lot. And mainly to herself. Luckily, the voice acting in the game is pretty damned good. The character has just the right amount of fear and false bravado to make her believable. But she does talk a lot. Perhaps it calms her nerves. After a while, we must admit, it got on ours.
As Cassie is blind a lot of time and effort has been spent making sure that the game has nothing less than first class audio. Everything in the game sounds as it would in real life. From the crackle of fire, to the sound of doors opening and Cassie’s footsteps, you are truly immersed in the notion that sounds can help you see.
As a horror game, Perception is not as terrifying as we would have liked. The idea of stumbling around a haunted house in the dark and being blind at the same time sounds as nerve wracking as you can imagine. However, there were few moments of naked fear on offer here. Rather the game relies on disorientating the player with a house that constantly reforms itself and forcing you to try to solve puzzles in near darkness. Perceptions attempt to jolt you into fear, for example, haunted dolls with guns instead of hands, often feels forced and unnatural. We played the game feeling more puzzled than afraid.
As a new entrant into the horror genre, Perception is a worthy offering and will happily soak up 8 to ten hours of your life. It won’t have you cowering behind your couch as you play but it will keep you engrossed until you solve the mystery of Cassie’s haunted dream.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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