Perception is an adventure game with a lot going for it, and while the mechanical adaptation of echolocation adds a lot to overall atmosphere, lackluster story delivery and an obnoxious protagonist break overall tone far too frequently to allow for proper immersion.
Perception calls itself an adventure game, but it would be a lot more accurately described as what the internet collectively calls a walking simulator. It isn't entirely void of puzzles or other mechanics, but most of the game's interactivity is achieved through walking and observing items, around the haunted Echo Bluff manor.
The game's hook is its signature echolocation mechanic. The blind protagonist Cassie can tap objects or any location in the environment to produce a sound wave that illuminates her surroundings. While being a stand-in for sight it can also alert the haunting Presence which resides in the mansion to Cassie's location. This barely ever happened during my playthrough however, and the game is generous enough to warn the player if he should tap around too much - announcing that the house itself is listening.
It didn't strike me as if The Deep End Games were trying to make the game challenging, and opted for making it an engaging experience instead. The solutions to most puzzles are usually easily attained after a bit of exploring, and provoking the Presence to a point where it becomes lethal is just a minor setback and didn't seem to carry real consequences with it. That might be the reason why Cassie didn't seem to take it too seriously either.
The Presence, is an effective scare during the times it does shows up, which mostly happened in scripted situations, rather than through my own carelessness in exploring the mansion. The resident haunt was generally uninterested in all the noise Cassie would cause while constantly talking to herself throughout the adventure - which is actually the game's biggest shortcoming, but we will come to that in a bit.
Echo Bluff mansion is presented in several time periods, as Cassie moves backwards in time along with the haunted house. The game's four acts pull the player through the demise of a handful of the mansion's prior occupants. The story is delivered in the more or less usual walking simulator manner. Audio logs of various kinds, memories Cassie picks up by paranormal means, and appearances by ghosts of the mansion's unfortunate residents from the past that show up frequently during exploration, along with variations on those basic methods of story delivery. These vignettes from the past are supplemented by Cassie's commentary on whatever might be going on at any given moment.
When making a game that greatly depends on atmosphere and a consistent tone, and when aiming to firmly place that game in the horror genre - it might not be a good idea to have a character that can shrug off small arms fire or seems entirely unimpressed by the fact that she is surrounded by ghosts and is being hunted by something that looks like death itself.
Starting up the game, I was given the option to cram a sock in Cassie's mouth by choosing a "silent night" mode for my playthrough. This would have reduced the chatter to a minimum necessary to drive the plot. I doubt it would have removed the issue entirely, but would have at least allowed for longer stretches of that sweet, silent immersive creepiness Perception actually excels at.
I'm not entirely sure whether it's the writing or the voice acting I should pin this on. Cassie doesn't seem to be the least bit scared, but rather irritated by the hellspawn transcending time and space that are out to get her. In one particular instance, when faced with a choir of sentient seeming automata dolls stacked in a tower, she replies to their collective soul chilling chatter with a snarky "Excuse me?".
It breaks the tone; it removes all tension; it makes Cassie sound like a tongue-in-cheek 80's action hero; and it happens all the time.
I strongly advise that your first playthrough of the game be in silent night mode, since you will only get one first go at the game, only one first impression, and should you decide that you find Cassie's tough girl ain't afraid of no Presence from hell attitude somehow endearing, you can always switch it back on in the options menu.
In any other game, this might have been a minor complaint, but since so much of Perception's gameplay is centred around its narrative, it becomes a flaw capable of breaking the entire experience. Worst of all, this is most pronounced in the game's first act, while it's still striving to establish its tone and atmosphere - a thing that is crucial to the entire adventure. For me, it managed to break the plot entirely, because I managed to guess the game's twist ending within the first hour. If Cassie had kept her mouth shut, or rather - had I shut it for her via the options menu, things might have gone differently.
Perception shines when it's building atmosphere and allowing the player to creep around in a dark haunted manor. Its overall themes and narrative are well paced and solidly structured, but delivered in a manner that is so counter-intuitive to the horror genre that it often seems to have been added as an afterthought. For a game that boasts of being inspired by true events, its protagonist failed to feel like a real person.
If you think that the echolocation mechanic and some decent but shaky atmospheric exploration with unique visuals is enough to keep you engaged for 10 or so hours, then Perception delivers in abundance, but those looking for a consistently well crafted horror story will have to look elsewhere.
Final scare: 6/10