When Tiny Bull Studios first announced Blind, they were, for the most part, ahead of the curve when it came to first-person titles based around using echolocation. However, in the ensuing years, that type of game has practically burgeoned into its own sub-genre, with titles like Perception and Stifled leading the charge. Does Blind bring anything new to the table? Or does it leave you floundering in the dark?
You find yourself playing Jean, a girl who wakes up in a spooky mansion, and finds that she can no longer see. A mysterious voice that plays through a phonograph guides you around as you locate a walking stick and begin to gain some independence. You must not only attempt to escape the mansion, but confront the inner turmoil that led you to your accident in the first place. Right out of the gate, the title makes a positive impression, as the cutscenes in the game are presented as comic style panels with a really neat parallax effect. It’s a completely unique visual touch that we found ourselves really impressed with.
The first few rooms continue this positive feeling as well. Some sonic puzzles are introduced and the cleverness on display is genuinely impressive. Things that make noise generate waves of sound, allowing you to see clearly for a brief time. Using this mechanic to illuminate a maze, see gears turning, or telling you a door has just opened is really clever, and makes for a nice level of engagement. Unfortunately, the things surrounding these few little touches are rough. Very rough.
Despite the impressive first few rooms, something just feels a little off. The controls are rather bizarre, and neither the DualShock 4 nor the Move controllers feel particularly natural. The game might actually have benefitted from teleportation instead of more traditional locomotion. We don’t know how many times we accidentally opened the pause menu because our natural reaction was the wrong button. If you have to keep shifting the headset off your eyes, to physically look at the move controllers to make sure you hit the right button, something is seriously wrong. At a minimum, only mapping the pause menu to the start button would have caused less frustration. The Moves use incremental turning paired with tank controls - you move forward in the direction your head is facing - and while it works well for avoiding motion sickness, it makes turning for puzzles much more tedious than it should be.
Technically, the game is about as stable as a pile of rocks in an earthquake. We encountered multiple hard crashes, a couple of checkpoint bugs where we had to restart the game in its entirety, and a plethora of other smaller nitpicks that are far less bothersome. Things like directional audio not working, and the game’s trophies seemingly being bugged - beating the game only netted us one trophy and it was very early on, which seems strange - are part of the myriad issues that, while not actively hurting the game, certainly didn’t help.
Overlooking the technical stuff, hopefully at least some of which gets patched, the game just wasn’t terribly fun. Outside of the sonic puzzles, which after the initial couple of rooms are only used sparingly, the gameplay comes off as more tedious. They’re more just, ironically, visual based puzzles. Get the gears to all touch one another so you can power a door, put these symbols in the right order, etc. The key feature of the game, the inability to see normally, is put by the wayside in favor of generic, uninteresting puzzles. There is one particular standout about halfway through the game that involves using a music box to locate tuning forks to open a padlock. This is the only instance we can think of where the game uses color as well. The echolocation visuals are all monochromatic, but that one instance of color really popped. It doesn’t hurt that the puzzle itself is really clever too.
Beyond these puzzles, the rest of the game is largely a walking simulator, other than the last chunk of the game which is more of a forced stealth gauntlet sequence that seems like it will never end. It’s practically an entirely different game at that point, and the change is not a welcome one. Much like Jean throughout the title, it felt like we were stumbling around in the dark -- until the game just stops, that is. Frankly, after those two-plus hours - closer to four if you count having to restart the game from the beginning multiple times - we were very much ready to take the headset off.
While most areas of the game - excepting the aforementioned sound puzzles of course - are disappointing, there a couple of other smaller bright spots littered around. The music is downright wonderful. Not only is the soundtrack narratively relevant, but almost the whole score consists of a number of variations built around the same song - Close Your Eyes by Mr. Sandman - which was genuinely interesting. It’s not enough to save the game, but it was still a nice touch.
Blind is a wildly uneven, generally disappointing trip into virtual reality. Its main sticking point, echolocation, shines when used to its fullest, but more often than not, it doesn’t get put to any real use. In between each of the game’s good puzzles, you’ll encounter large stretches of walking, and probably a smattering of technical problems as well. But hey, at least it won’t take too much of your time. The ending impression with Blind that we were left with was largely one of disappointment. We hoped for, and expected, more.