Beyond Eyes was one of the most lauded indie darlings of this year’s E3, the game making a brief, but impactful showing amongst the myriad titles shown off by Microsoft during their successful press briefing. The premise is certainly an intriguing one, with the game tasking players of wandering around the world of a girl deprived of her sight, yet beyond this concept, Beyond Eyes truly offers very little, which, combined with the snail’s pace at which it moves, makes it not simply a disappointment, but undoubtedly one of the worst releases that I have played this year.
The plot, if one can even describe it as such, concerns a young girl, Rae, as she searches for her one and only friend, a cat named Nani that would regularly visit her home. It’s a very childish premise for a game wishing to have itself taken seriously as an exploration of sensory deprivation, coming across – with a little help from the presentation and visual style (which are actually quite pretty) – as little more than a children’s book or feeble BBC produced cartoon. Thankfully though, that’s not to say that the experience isn’t totally without merit, because there was at least one noteworthy aspect of its design.
The world of Beyond Eyes is one that is initially devoid of form, much like Command and Conquer’s fog of war, the surroundings are smothered in a white mist that begins to give way when Rae draws near, whilst additional details give way thanks to her remaining senses. Rae uses her hearing, touch and sense of smell to determine what it is that comprises the game’s environs, from the sounding of a church bell, to the chirping of birds or the barking of a dog. Yet sometimes, the images that she conjures up in her mind are not quite accurate – to begin with at least – such as the way in which the sound of running water conjures up the image of a fountain, only, as she draws nearer to it, her sense of smell dictates that the source of the water is in fact a sewer outlet. Likewise, clothes drying in the glorious spring sunshine eventually give way to a loosely clothed scarecrow as she moves towards it. These are undoubtedly the finest moments in the game, but sadly they don’t happen nearly as much as one would like.
Navigating the world is a bit of a slog, Rae for one moves at such a slow pace that the two to three hours of gameplay end up overstaying their welcome quite considerably, and thanks to the manner in which the world takes form, I made a concerted effort to fill in all of the blanks in the hopes of discovering that little bit more. My search was a vain one, however, and I never once felt any sort of a connection to Rae, which made the whole experience feel like little more than a waster opportunity, which is a real shame as the core concept deserved more. With only vague memories of her world before the loss of her sight, Rae has developed a fear of almost everything around her, though these interactions form the basis of the game’s “puzzle” content, not enough time is spent on the process of a girl overcoming the fears that blight her life, keeping her forever in the shadows.
I have used the term painterly numerous times to describe the aesthetic qualities of games that I have reviewed over the last few years, yet few deserve the label to be applied to them as much as this does. There’s a real watercolour quality that helps Beyond Eyes look far better than it really deserves to be, and it cements what I assume was the designer’s goal of creating an interactive children’s picture book, yet its stylistic triumphs do little to stave off the immense boredom that the “walking simulator” style gameplay has to offer. Audio wise, there isn’t really much to report on, but the emotive, piano led score seems to hint at a narrative grander than a child’s search for a missing cat.
I have no doubt that it’s a far more realistic depiction of the subject matter to have Rae move so slowly around her surroundings, yet there can be no denying that it is a major detractor from the experience as a whole. There’s also precious little in the way of character development, so the chances of any gamer actually feeling anything beyond frustration are pretty slim, which makes Beyond Eyes a major disappointment. Whilst its core message manages to come through all too clearly (we mustn’t give up on life, regardless of what obstacles it throws at us), the game’s few strengths do little to compensate for its mundane pace.