Here is a bunch of (hint: it's really just five) reasons why The Deep End Games might be releasing a game changer for the video game horror genre on 30 May 2017. Strap in for some speculation and stumbling around in absolute darkness.
Horror games tend to slip into predefined patterns with alarming regularity. A good atmospheric scare is hard to design, and every time innovation within the genre raises its head, it gets drowned out by a deluge of copycats differing in no way from the genuine article other than in the amount of additional jump scares. Perception might very well be one of those rare innovative titles, and here are some educated guesses as to why.
A brand new studio and publisher
Big franchises, studios and publishers tend to be risk-averse. The Deep End Games and Feardemic (dead-link) are new kids on the block. Well, not exactly new - some of the individual developers have previously worked on titles like BioShock and Dead Space, but all the actors involved are looking to make a name for themselves, and rarely anyone has ever managed such a feat by playing it safe. Everyone involved in the production is likely to be quite ready to take some risks, and with AAA experience behind their belts, the developers probably won't be doing so at the expense of polish.
There is no greater darkness than blindness
Horror thrives in the unseen and the primal fear of what might be lurking in the dark, external or internal, is the basic building block of catharsis through dread. Perception's premise is structured entirely around depriving the player character of the blessing of sight. This means that there is no environment in the game that isn't shrouded in darkness by design. To make matters even more terrifying - it isn't really darkness. It's the absolute absence of sight and anything that might try to serve as a stand-in for it, is inherently unreliable from the player's perspective, because it is a further approximation and compromise. In a way, this pulls another layer of tension over already absolute darkness.
Every single move could build suspense
Perception will have the player navigating through levels using echolocation. Orientation in any environment will require an action that produces a sound, that then has to bounce back off of something. In order to move around Echo Bluff manor, the player has to turn the game's protagonist into a target for whatever might be lurking in the unseen, because nightmares and hellspawn can pick up the same sounds that are produced in an effort to find them. In practise, this should allow any action taken by the player to be put in the service of building further suspense, and doing nothing while cowering in a corner should be a great counterbalance, but produce similar results.
Horror generally uses sound most effectively as a proxy for something just out of view, but when a game seems as heavily dependent on sound for visualising events as Perception is - things get a little blurry. Blurry is good. It is uncertain, and every good horror piece should embrace uncertainty. If every sound has to produce a visual trace of itself within the game's logic, then playing with that logic offers a unique avenue for the developers to communicate to the player that they shouldn't really rely on anything they perceive in the game, visual, auditory or otherwise. An excellent opportunity to depict the protagonist's blindness and vulnerability through mechanics and systems? Telxvi definitely thinks so.
The most uncanny of realities
Stumbling around derelict space stations and walking in on graveside satanic rituals are a few ways to go about creating suspension of disbelief through a measure of internal consistency. Attempting to ground your horror story in reality is a different matter entirely. During the early days of Perceptions production a found footage type video was made linking the game's Echo Bluff Manor to a real world location. While the video might have been a one-off promotional kind of thing, it would be great to see video game horror attempt this sort of thing more often. After all, the scariest stories, are those you aren't quite certain are just stories.
I remember seeing the first couple of teaser trailers for Perception and thinking, how has nobody thought of this before? The game has a lot going for it and a lot of prerequisites for a good horror game seem to be build into Perception's premise. We will find out whether it can live up to expectations when it finally launches 30 May 2017, for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and a Switch version is scheduled for a later date this year.