Perception is a game defined by limitations. Its main character, Cassie, is blind, its aesthetics are limited to a narrow palette of colors and simple textures, and its game play is limited to point-and-click exploration and a frustrating central mechanic that further restricts Cassie's mobility. While all games are bounded by limits and rules -- overcoming or working within them is what makes a game challenging -- Perception in the end feels constricted and bland.
From listening to interviews with the developers, it is clear that they made a sincere effort to convey the experience of blindness, both mechanically and psychologically. Thus, Cassie is aided by a heightened sense of hearing and the ability to use her cane for echolocation and perception, and she can use various devices like text-to-speech translators. Of course there is an emotional component as well, with Cassie being frustrated and fearful, not simply as a result of unfolding events, but the ways in which her limited perception gets in the way of her survival.
In the briefest of preambles, we meet Cassie the child learning to use echolocation to understand her environment before we are shifted to present-day Cassie and her increasingly tense exploration through a dreamed-of mystery house. Using her cane, Cassie slowly makes her way through the house. Characters and story begin to emerge as she encounters memory-triggering objects, conveniently placed audio logs conveniently cued up to just the right place for a bit of story exposition, and eventually, actual ghosts and a deadly enemy that can end her life instantly.
Perception's central conceit is not without merit, with Cassie's cane echolocation creating briefly appearing, ethereal blue images of her surroundings, suggesting an experience of the world that is largely dark but illuminated by an alternate way of "seeing." Unfortunately, as an extended game play mechanic it becomes repetitive and irritating. Additionally, Cassie's limited way of moving through the world is further complicated by the game's primary monster being drawn to the sound of her cane, which is supposed to create tension but actually results in the player moving through the world in near darkness so as to avoid the ghost monster.
Strip Perception of its main gimmick and one is left with a very limited and not terribly imaginative or frightening adventure horror game. A very linear path and limited number of highlighted objects with which to interact both erode the feeling of exploration and discovery. There is simply a lack of imagination at play and too many overused devices. Further, Cassie's chatty, flippant, jokey tone seems wildly at odds with both the emotional and physical danger in which she finds herself. The developers must be aware of this contradiction as there is an option to essentially limit her commentary. At times, the convenient tropes of adventure and point-and-click games seem to trump the logic of the protagonist's blindness. For example, how and why does her echolocation abilities distinguish just those objects needed to advance the story forward?
Having Cassie's blindness as the defining game play mechanic results in a visually repetitive experience where again, one can appreciate the developer's sincerity in tackling a significant subject, but not necessarily enjoy the aesthetic results. Perception is not a long game but becomes repetitive early on. In the end, the gameplay implications of a character with a significant handicap are folded into an intriguing premise that is simply not executed very well.