The video game industry has surpassed the film industry in gross revenue for years now. According to a study done in 2008, 68% of households in the United States play computer or console games. When I was young boy, console games on the Atari 2600 where laughable representations of films. Raiders of the Lost Ark on the Atari was a 2 color nonsense representation of Indy running around in horrible block representations of the movie scenes. Figuring out what these block scenes were trying to represent was akin to discovering the Ark itself. The likeness of film to video game has been a giant chasm until more recent years. Naughty Dog’s Uncharted II: Among Thieves is a superb adventure game and after completing the game I came to a striking realization: Uncharted was now miles ahead of the film series it drew inspiration from. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was released to theaters a year before, had been surpassed in terms of entertainment, storytelling, voice acting, and replayability by a video game. Video games have progressed beyond “beep boop pew” gameplay and crude graphics, they have become a way to experience something. That is exactly what Beyond Eyes is about, an experience.
Beyond Eyes tries to adapt the poignant difficulties of being a blind defenseless little girl into something anyone can experience and reflect on. The game puts one in control of young girl named Rae, who tragically loses her ability to see at an earlier age. There are no enemies to shoot. No bosses to fight. No hard puzzles to clear with split second reflexes. This is a game of artistic appreciation, concept analysis, and reflection and not what every pc gamer expects from a game.
Beyond Eyes is a combination short French art film, children’s book, and interactive adventure.
Rae’s companion is Nani, a playful orange tabby that is Rae’s one and only friend. One day, Nani doesn’t return, and Rae embarks on a heroic journey to find him. A daunting task for Rae. Your area of vision is a mere 1-2 feet around you; Rae’s blindness limits the player’s vision. There is no HUD, there is no mini-map, there is nothing but blank white space all around you. As you walk around, areas slowly fill with color as you discover your surroundings. Rae can also visualize sounds and scents into images, an echo location of sorts.
The watercolor artistic style matches style and presentation of a children’s book. Every step that reveals Rae’s surroundings as the screen comes alive with impressive greens and colorful flowers, bringing to life the picturesque town Rae lives in. Elements that Rae perceives as dangerous are tainted in dark purple ribbons that swirl around the objects. Rae will hold her head down and shudder as she passes barking dogs, squawking ravens, or grumbling old men.
I felt Rae’s confusion and fear every time a I bumped into a wall and watched Rae’s little hand raise up to feel what was blocking her. Many of the elements Rae fears I would never fear; I would never be afraid of some squawking seagulls near a pier. However, from Rae’s perspective the frightening sounds do constitute a barrier she can’t cross, forcing you to figure out alternative solutions. As a father, I couldn’t help but also imagine if my own daughters would have to experience something like this daily. How would they cope? How would I?
Beyond Eyes features a gentle, melodic piano accompaniment to mirror her adventures. It beautifully accentuates the lush meadows and tranquil stream vistas she traverses most of the game. Soft breezes, birds chirping, crickets, cat meows, and many other sounds immerse the player into Rae’s perspective. An interesting twist will periodically occur. Early on the sound of a fountain paints the object in the distance for you. In a later moment you come across the same sound as Rae perceives another fountain off in the distance. As you approach it, the fountain changes to a sewer pipe, emptying it’s contents into a stream. These audio misunderstandings occur throughout the game and it’s an excellent way to accentuate Rae’s lack of sight.
This is not a perfect game, far from it. Beyond Eyes is very slow, painfully so for the tastes of some gamers. Your movements at times are not smooth, you will become stuck on a box, or a purpling swirling “danger” sound of dog barking. Twice, I was wandering back and forth through the same two areas not sure of where to go next at Rae’s halting pace. There’s just not much to do: you have one action button, and a dozen places to use your interact button. There are little tidbits you can accomplish for an achievement, but they are not necessary to completing the adventure, nor compelling. There are very few humans in Rae’s town, and none are willing to acknowledge a blind girl in need of some help. Some of these elements are puzzling, and even annoying at times.
Negatives like fumbling around a wall of crates and stumbling around what can’t bee seen are necessary to signify out Rae’s condition. You would not be able to distinguish if a dog is friendly, big, large, mean, or nice by the tone of its bark. For a ten year old blind girl, this unknown is could be like an impassable “wall.” The concepts are for illustrating Rae’s condition and place in the world are novel and clever, but less so when it comes to the player’s interaction with the environment.
It is a beautifully done entity that is neither game, nor book. Beyond Eyes gameplay and experience will lead to polarizing opinions of the game.
Would have I liked more things to do within the game? Yes. Beyond Eyes is a short game. It’s being generous to say it has a two to three hour time investment. The story of a young girl trying to reconnect with her only friend is more than adequately told in that time. So instead of more streets to cross, or more “scary” elements to avoid, I would have preferred the inclusion of some choices. Do I attempt to scare birds away, feed them, or lure some cats in their direction? Any kind of choice/consequence scenario inserted throughout would be more engaging for players. Once the concept of controlling Rae is established, the few elements that add tension or connection to the story are separated by 15-20 minutes of walking slowly about. This could have used more refinement.
Beyond Eyes is a combination of elements found in art films, children’s books, and interactive adventures. Its primary aim is to craft a new experience for players. This is not an easy thing to do, but developer Tiger & Squid succeeded in doing so. They set out to create an experience, but it’s sitting in my Steam game library next to other interactive novels and storytelling adventures and well, games. The deeper engaging elements are not present in Beyond Eyes. It is a beautifully done entity that is neither game, nor book. Beyond Eyes gameplay and experience will lead to polarizing opinions of the game. For what it attempts to be, it is an above average entry, but do not expect a long satisfying story nor replayability. Hopefully Tiger & Squid’s next title can be equally bold in its concepts, but strive to deepen engagement in order to maximize what video games offer as a powerful storytelling medium.Steam