During Microsoft’s E3 2015 conference, one game in particular caught my eye and that game was Beyond Eyes. I was immediately drawn to the premise of seeing the world through the eyes of a young blind girl, hoping to revisit a familiar sense of Unfinished Swan -like nostalgia.
Similar to the swan-chasing exploration game, Beyond Eyes plays very similar in comparison, all the while still encompassing the same heart wrenching emotional factor to its gameplay. Chapter by chapter, you play as a young blind girl named Rae whose only goal is to explore the visually unknown to find her friendly cat companion, Nani.
Roaming from blank area to blank area, the world gains color and depth as Rae continues with her exploration. With every step and every touch, the area around Rae is illuminated with vivid shades of greens, pinks, blues and all other assortments of beautiful colors. In contrast, things which are abnormal or foreign to Rae appear as smoke, or are colored black and grey.
Although Beyond Eyes is not a blind simulator to any degree, it still manages to interpret the conditions of blindness to those whom could never otherwise comprehend the experience of the impairment. The volume of background sounds such as the hum of a vehicle, footsteps and running water are increased to enhance the player’s additional senses, aside from the obvious visual conditions of the game. As noises would spike in the distance, images of an object would shoot towards the opposite side of the environment. Shortly after, that same sound began to fade away, so did the imaginary visual object itself, almost as if Rae was able to imagine something she heard and when she could no longer hear it, it visually disappeared from her imagination.
Another amazing attribute to the Beyond Eyes interpretation of blindness is how things would change as Rae approached them. For example, there was a moment where Rae explored what she imagined to be a garden and heard what she thought was a beautiful water fountain. As she walked towards the fountain, it quickly changed into a water runoff pipe. Another experience included Rae walking towards a woodpecker which transformed into a clicking crosswalk button as she drew closer to it.
Although sympathy is never an acceptable emotion to hold towards someone with a physical impairment, there were times that I felt increasingly sad for Rae. My emotions didn’t necessarily stem from the fact that she was blind, but that she was young, unaware and alone. As she encountered things that were foreign to her, such as strange engine-like sounds or nearby dogs, the screen would become riddled with black smoke, meant to represent Rae’s fear for the unknown. This factor, among many others, made me deeply care for Rae as a character and the entire game, as a result.
And yes, Beyond Eyes is a fascinating game — but it is not perfect. As much as I enjoyed the gorgeous landscape, the overwhelming tones of serenity and the overall message of the game, there were issues that I experienced while playing. For starters, the loading times were rather lengthy, and as I jumped from chapter to chapter, I felt increasingly more irritated.
Another issue, which is quite major, is just how slowly Rae walks. To be fair, this is a realistic factor to blindness but in terms of actual gameplay, it can be somewhat frustrating to experience firsthand. There were countless moments where I knew that I had missed uncovering parts of the area but was too discouraged to walk back and discover it. I, for the first time in my life, willingly sacrificed further exploration due to the fact that I knew it would take an overwhelming amount of time to get back to the same location, due to Rae’s snail-like walking speed.
Other than those two issues in Beyond Eyes, there are countless qualities which make the game very, very memorable. If you enjoy titles such as Unfinished Swan, Journey or if you were one of the few people who actually appreciated Papo & Yo, I would venture to say that Beyond Eyes is specifically categorized to fit your taste and is an essential ‘must-have’ in your digital gaming library.
This review was based on a digital copy of Beyond Eyes for the Xbox One provided by Tiger & Squid.