Video games are like empathy generators. More than any other medium they allow us to feel what it might be like to be another type of person. Beyond Eyes is great example of this – a game which attempts to simulate the experience of being blind. But while it plays host to some fiendishly clever design, its slow pace and slightly underwhelming story means that it ultimately fails to live up to its potential.
The title sees you play as Rae, a young girl who recently lost her sight. At first she spends summer alone in her backyard, but quickly befriends a cat, only to see this feline companion run away when winter comes. Rather than sitting around moping, our protagonist sets out on an adventure to find her friend. The game attempts to simulate what this sort of journey might feel like for a blind person.
To do this, it uses a clever trick in which the game-world only visually reveals itself to you as you walk through it, or if you hear a pertinent sound. It's a smart system, both mechanically and symbolically, and it allows for some truly breathtaking moments. You might hear a dripping sound which Rae will interpret and visualise as a fountain, but closer inspection will reveal to be a sewerage pipe.
Similarly, some of the most powerful sections in the game see you interacting with crows or barking dogs which scare Rae. These moments see the music change and the visuals darken while Rae cowers and begins to walk slowly, making for a particularly tense and empathic experience.
The thrust of the gameplay, then, is exploration. You slowly feel your way around the levels using your limited visual knowledge – as well as various sonic clues – to get closer and closer to your feline friend. To be clear, though, there is very little challenge here. The later levels sometimes have basic puzzles to solve, but you'll never be challenged in the traditional sense, and it's impossible to lose or die.
This presents one of the game's biggest quandaries. While it may be an incredibly accurate representation of what it would be like to be blind, it doesn't make for a terribly captivating videogame experience in the traditional sense. Which, to be fair, means that your enjoyment of it will be entirely dependent on what you're looking for. If you're looking for an empathy generator, then this is the game for you. However, if you you're looking for a more traditional experience, it may not be.
Unfortunately, the story doesn't help in this area either. It's admittedly a touching tale, and one delivered with panache, but it never quite reaches the heights it feels like it ought to. We're not suggesting that every game of this sort needs to be a tearjerker, but simply that this particular title feels like it could have had a more emotionally engaging story. It never makes strong use of its premise, and the pace is entirely too slow to be captivating.
Speaking of pace, the title moves very, very slowly. Indeed, this is likely the slowest walking simulator we've come across. Now, again, this is almost certainly a deliberate design choice aimed at replicating the experience of being blind, but it means that the game can often be frustrating. We obviously can't evaluate its success in simulation, but we can suggest that a slightly faster walking pace may have alleviated these annoyances without compromising the vision.
One area that absolutely doesn't disappoint, though, is the game's presentation, which is consistently impressive throughout. The explore-'em-up looks like a watercolour painting, with pastel greens and blues melding together to create gorgeous environments. What's more, the aforementioned visual tricks mean that the world is constantly morphing and changing around you. Apart from some suitably subtle underscoring, there's little music to speak of, but some clever sound design goes a long way in creating atmosphere.
Beyond Eyes is an incredibly admirable game. Its aim of simulating the experience of being blind is buoyed by a clever central conceit, and genuinely breathtaking presentation. Unfortunately, an exceedingly frustrating pace combined with a lackluster story means that the title ultimately buckles under the weight of its own ambition.