Saturday, 11 June 2016

Beyond Eyes : A contemplative game review

Beyond Eyes is not a game, and it is;
it's not a graphic novel, and it is;
it's not a walking simulator it is, a very slow walk. I hope that has saved you some time, but if you are looking for a game that will change you, please join me. By their very nature video games change your world, sometimes they train you in keyboard mashing or in bad physics , always involving explosives. Beyond Eyes is a "game" that belongs in a genre of the kind of games that change your outlook. I call these contemplative games. The story starts with Rae, a young girl, around 8 or 9 by my guess, and blind.


Created by Tiger and Squid, Beyond Eyes took over 2 years of solo work until being adopted by Team17 (of Worms fame.) Published on Xbox , PC and Playstation4 in August 2015 the game is intended to create empathy, and to experiment with the act of exploring one's environment.  It's the exploring of a blind person executed in beautifully rendered watercolours, clean pastels on a muted back cloth of white which lends itself to the empathy experience that any game making it into this genre must have. You play as Rae, but soon I felt I was not playing as the young girl, but rather playing the part of the one thing glaringly missing, the parent. A parent who should be protecting what was once a promising and outgoing child but now damaged and terribly alone in the world. The sense of being alone is very strong in the game and it is personified in the appearance of a stray ginger cat whom Rae names Nani. Some people have drawn lots of conclusions from Nani's name or behaviour or meaning, but to me she is just a gentle but aloof cat. Nani appears in Raes' life just at the point when she is suddenly alone, and attempts to draw your character out of their shell by doing what cats do. The cat doubles as a kind of symbol, but Nani introduces you to the idea that a blind persons world is built using sound and smells. Which is why Nani smells like and behaves like a stray ginger cat. Wandering off and luring you through the garden gate into the exploring part of this game. The exploring mechanics introduces and uses an element that creator Sherida Halatoe capitalizes upon to emphasise the sensation of blindness. Your world as a blind person (and Raes' broken social life) is very small, and as you explore you must rebuild these 2 and at the same time overcome obstacles. You will get lost as you explore and search for Nani, and even temporarily stuck because you have to feel your way about because Raes' vision is built using sound. Sound which misleads her sometimes, resulting in some surprises and fun and leading to frustrations too. The game is played at a slow walking pace, I mean blind people can run, but the way the world fades slowly back to white after she passes, and the slow exploring speed really make you feel blind and trapped. You cannot move fast enough to rebuild the fading surroundings, and at one point it rains which literally washes away the beautiful watercolour rendered world. I started to feel a sense of urgency at this point and got totally hooked.




But even before this all, the game fell down for me. Just a few minutes into the game that will keep you busy for about 2 hours (more if you explore fully) I decided to see if closing my eyes would work. The sound-scape is really good, with chapters or stages are introduced with some brilliant piano work to compliment the mood. But the sound has holes, little things like a fountain that does not sound like a fountain if you approach it from the wrong side. Different walking surfaces are accurately rendered in the sound-scape with grass crunching giving way to the hard sound of stone and a crunch of gravel. But then the woodpecker at the bottom of the yard sounds out the same toc toc toc with no natural variations. Subtle environmental sound hardness changes and depth or echoes is another thing I expected to hear too, but to be fair I've not experienced in all but high budget games anyway. But these are made up for by the huge variety of sounds, smells and locations you must explore and the fact that Rae does not find a gun or a sword. Which would have come in handy in some of the threatening situations she finds herself in. Which is why I liked this game. I hope I've not given anything away, and helped you to decide if it's your kind of game. Creator Sherida Halatoe has added a few other elements to the game and story, but I'll leave you to find them.

Final scoring 

(How I score: http://softcircuitry.blogspot.com/2015/12/new-genre-contemplative-computer-games.html)
Artwork  5/5
SoundTrack  4/5
Plot 4/5
Playability 5/5
Value 3/5

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