Perception Comes to the PS4
The Deep End Games have confirmed that their new game Perception will be coming to PlayStation 4. The independent game developer is made up of industry veterans responsible for games like Dead Space and Bioshock. Perception is a first person narrative horror game where players assume the role of Cassie, a blind woman.
As Cassie, the player will use sounds to explore a Echo Bluff, an abandoned mansion. They will create a visualization of their surroundings through echolocation and sound cues. Much like Marvel’s visually impaired crime fighter Daredevil, Cassie constructs a version of reality through sound.
The Deep End have created a unique visual representation of Cassie’s world. Echo Bluff appears as a monochromatic, ghostly sketch of reality. But it only appears in flashes. Noises like hissing pipes and chiming clocks will reveal rooms before everything disappears into darkness. The game does not have a confirmed release date.
The Rise of Indies
Although arguably still a niche genre, horror games have been flooding the market in the past few years. Thanks to the YouTuber revolution and the popularity of horror game Let’s Plays, gamers have seen more and more of these titles released.
The prominence of indie studios in the games industry today also means that smaller teams can focus on more off-beat or shorter games. Shorter game formats also lend themselves perfectly to the horror genre. It’s way harder to maintain tension and suspense over a longer period. The Amnesias of the world have taken over.
An experience like Silent Hills: PT showcases this. As a playable trailer for a game, P.T. offered a short, intense burst of terror. With the increase of indie horror in recent years, small scale horror is becoming the mainstream. Even Resident Evil 7 seems to be ditching its action elements in favor of a more stripped down approach.
The glut of horror games is good news for horror fans. But it also means that players see a lot of the same tropes and cheap scares recycled over and over. Developers are struggling to keep up with demand and remain innovative. Perception’s creative game mechanic could provide a fresh take on a genre that’s running out of steam.
There’s a moment in the trailer when the player first enters a large room, revealed only through the intermittent chimes of a grandfather clock. Not only does the sound design create an eerie atmosphere, but the sudden switch between complete darkness and limited clarity creates tension and a trepidation.
Like with horror films, sound design is vital to establishing mood. Perception’s stripped back soundscape that relies heavily on environmental noises sharpens the player’s focus on the smallest sound. Noises like the talking doll and the fluttering moths in the trailer stand out more, contrasting with the game’s silent sections. Again, Perception is using one of the foundations of good horror games in a new way.
Getting The Right Ingredients
Perception looks like a pared-back, introspective experience. Its stripped back approach to horror proves that the basics of horror – limited visibility, power, knowledge, and contact – can still be effective. There are lots of things that go into making a good horror game, and when they get it wrong the whole thing can fall apart.
The best horror games also limit the amount of visibility, information, or power players have. Playing as an overpowered or invincible protagonist removes the element of risk from the gameplay. With survival horror games, the knowledge that your character is largely powerless in the face of not only their environment but also enemies adds to the terror. Games like Alien: Isolation successfully incorporated this. The game’s almost indestructible Xenomorph stalking through the space station after you was truly terrifying.
Even exploiting the human need for interaction and community by isolating players in threatening or unsettling environments can be a useful tool in horror games. There’s a reason so many horror stories take place in haunted houses or abandoned theme parks. Emptiness and lack of human contact makes the player’s mind compensate. Games like Dead Space and BioShock offer fleeting or distant interactions with NPCs to highlight the player’s loneliness. Perception seems like a properly solitary – and in turn dread-filled – experience.
Looking to the (Near) Future
Some horror games may feel fairly formulaic, but as Perception shows there is still room for innovation. By returning to the core aspects of horror, Perception could provide the next indie house of horrors. However, Perception’s approach seems to run counter to the more forward-thinking VR horror movement.
With new platforms like PlayStation VR, developers have the chance to truly re-invent the genre as well. Although immersive horror experiences may not be for everyone, games like the upcoming Resident Evil 7 show that developers are already taking advantage of VR technology. It also presents a challenge, as the player may have more agency over their perspective.
Movement can also be a problem in VR games, and for narrative focused horror games with an emphasis on exploration that could be detrimental. Either way, it offers developers a chance to re-evaluate the genre, and look at new ways to deliver their games.
Whether looking forward or backward, horror games must constantly retune themselves in order to stay relevant. As long as games like Perception keep taking the components of horror and delivering them in interesting ways, players will keep coming back to the genre again and again.