Long time Gamerwife readers may remember new indie game Beyond Eyes as the game Dames Who Make Games interviewee Sherida was working on when I spoke to her. Obviously a lot has happened since that interview and the game was release on Xbox One and Steam this August. Since I finally managed to eek out some time to play it, I thought I’d share my thoughts on this beautiful and unique game below.
In the game you play as Rae, a young girl who we learn in the intro to the game, has been blinded in a fireworks accident. The goal of the game seems to be to put you in the shoes of someone who is blind, using sound effects and emergent landscapes as a way of portraying what it is like to move through space without sight.
We start with Rae in what we are told is a garden, but the flowers and trees and sorts only reveal themselves as you move around the space. It’s almost as if those these details are painted in as Rae moves around. In this garden sequence we are also introduced to Rae’s only friend, an independent orange cat Rae calls Nani.
Nani serves as a sort of furry auditory beacon for Rae as her meows beckon Rae to explore the space around her. Unfortunately, at some point Nani disappears and Rae decides to venture outside her garden sanctuary to find her friend, which is where most of the game takes place.
Gameplay in Beyond Eyes would probably fall into the pejoratively coined “walking simulator” subgenre, with only very limited opportunities to interact with the environment. Visually the game is stunning, with watercolour style environments unfurling around Rae as she searches for her friend. Scary sounds and characters are indicated with black swirls, while light blue strokes indicate when something is interactive.
Probably the best use of this visual metaphor for frightening sounds is when Rae has to approach a busy street, which is depicted as a wall of swirling black smoke. However, this is the only place where the technique feels truly effective, while the rest of the time you just plod around trying to figure out where to go.
The finished game is actually a collaboration between Sherida’s fledgling Tiger & Squid and established indie studio Team 17 Digital probably best known for the Worms franchise, and the joint effort has definitely paid off in terms of the visual polish and fluidity of movement displayed. However, Beyond Eyes is definitely the kind of game that will generate a lot of discussion about what constitutes a “game.”
Personally I think Beyond Eyes could more accurately be described as a sort of interactive storybook, as the story and art style feel very much as though they were lifted from a children’s book. I would actually recommend the game for parents wanting to introduce their children to games, but maybe no one younger than 8 years old as the ending is a bit of a bummer (although there is a more hopeful epilogue if you watch past the credits).
And, while I understand that as a blind child, Rae has to move slowly and deliberately, the fact that there is no way to increase her pace at times makes the game feel especially plodding. Games don’t have to be full of action and puzzles in order to be entertaining, but the relatively similarity of the environments that you are uncovering means that the zen-like discovery aspect of the game can get very stale if you try to play it in one sitting.
The game itself isn’t very long, I finished it in less than three hours, but it is split into 6 chapters which will help those looking to play with younger gamers.
In conclusion I’d say that Beyond Eyes is a visually stunning game that sadly falls short of being a truly immersive experience.