Review: Beyond Eyes Is Visual Poetry
Enchanting, emotional, and unique, Beyond Eyes is an experience more like poetry and fairytale than a game. Discover the world anew with Rae, a girl learning to live with blindness.
- Worth The Time?It's a short but powerful experience
- Things LovedThe game tackles difficult subject matter in a sensitive and innovative way, working Rae's story of growth into the whole game. The storybook visuals are beautiful as well.
- Things HatedNothing, really. The game is a little short, but packs a powerful punch that warrants a more careful revisit to think about it all.
- RecommendationBeyond Eyes pushes the boundaries of the kinds of stories games try to tell, and for that alone it is certainly worth a play, especially for those who enjoy minimalist games more focused on story, like Dear Esther or Journey.
- Name: Beyond Eyes
- Genre: Exploration
- Players: 1
- Platforms: PC, Xbox One
- Developer: Tiger & Squid
- Publisher: Team17 Digital
- Price: $14.99
- Reviewed On: PC
Some games are hard to review because trying to pin a score onto the experience feels like it cheapens it. It feels like trying to review a painting by counting brushstroke length or canvas quality. Beyond Eyes, the emotional debut from Tiger and Squid, is one of these sorts of games.
It tells the story of Rae, a girl who is coming to terms with going blind, searching for her feline friend Nani. Leaving the garden which has been the limits of her world since the accident that caused her blindness, Rae encounters a world that is both new and sometimes frightening in order to find Nani.
The concept is elegantly simple, with the game allowing you to move at your pace through the world as Rae discovers where she is. The world is a white expanse until either Rae draws near enough to tell what she is approaching, or she hears something that gives her information about the area. As a result, the game’s visuals are strikingly done in a style that captures Rae’s imagined world through colour and texture. The game is beautiful, like something out of a picture book, and this is enhanced by the brief, story-book style of the hints and narration. The music, too, adds to the fairytale experience of the world in its simplicity.
The game involves taking Rae from the familiarity of her garden through farmyards and the town as she tries to figure out where Nani has gone. Exploration is the major focus, and the game engages with this in a brilliant way. Sometimes the sounds Rae hears suggest one thing, and turn out to be something else, revealing to both Rae and the player a shifting world where sounds are the main source of information. Sometimes these shifts result in surprises, shocks, or confusion as barriers materialise or disappear. The colours change depending on Rae’s emotions, and the world expands as she imagines it around her. This helps the player to understand Rae, rather than pity her or lionise her as a hero for performing everyday tasks.
The game’s design helps strongly here, giving the player enough clues to find the way forward, while rewarding careful exploration with a few choice experiences and its overall clever way of showing the world as Rae imagines it, from signs with smudgy ‘words’ to branches scraping becoming an umbrella when noticed closely. Rae’s experience of the world is infectious, and it makes for a powerful game.
A major element that allows this is Rae’s character design. Her movements are so expressively done that her excitement, joy, surprise, and fear are tangibly revealed to the player. She hunches over when sad, cowers when afraid, and reaches out to new experiences. It’s in the little touches, like feeling for a nearby obstacle or barrier that reveal the attention to detail that went into this experience and brings it to life. The vocal work, too, brings this to the fore. It’s hard not to laugh along with Rae when she is happily surprised, or feel her fear as she shivers, or get caught up in her worry about Nani. The game presents her in a nuanced way, and it’s a wonderful experience to discover her interior life and watch as she adapts to the world around her, learning and changing as she explores.
Now comes the bit of the review that feels so awkward. How does one talk about gameplay when thinking about a game which is simply walking along with Rae on her journey of growth? The player is there for the experience, to share Rae’s story and understand her feelings, of which there are many. There is interactivity interspersed with the exploration, recovering a girl’s lost ball from somewhere off the path, and luring seagulls away with bread for example. Some players may wish Rae could walk faster, but that is to miss the entire point of the game. Similarly, it would undermine the game to stuff it with puzzles and challenges. Beyond Eyes takes the brave step to produce a game that is short and simple to tell the best story, rather than filling it with things players are led to expect under the definition of a “game”.
As a result, Beyond Eyes might not be for everyone because, like other experimental games such as Dear Esther, the word ‘game’ feels almost at odds with the work presented. Games like this represent the difficult growth of the medium as it explores different kinds of stories that can be told. The interactivity of gaming provides a wonderful medium for Rae’s story, and Beyond Eyes is something so different from the usual fare. Dealing with Rae’s blindness and the anxiety it causes becomes a story of friendship, seeking closure, and personal growth that is sensitively executed with emotional finesse. While it’s only a 2-3 hour experience, it’s a brilliantly told story that should be done in a single sitting, headphones on and tissues at the ready.