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Beyond Eyes

Beyond Eyes

This was a genuinely different and affecting game, and well worth a play by anyone who looks for more than the latest high-octane FPS. Whilst not without its faults, this is a really good look at how we can use mechanics in games to increase their emotional range.

You play the part of a young girl who loses her sight in a bonfire accident. Some time later, a cat starts to visit her regularly and they become friends. Then, one day, the cat doesn’t come back. Even though Rae (the player character) is scared to leave the safety of her garden, she’s so worried about her friend that she feels she must find out what’s happened to her.

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It’s a premise, but one that’s easy to relate to and that plays on the child-like innocence that forms the core of the mechanics and narrative of the game. Movement is simple – use the stick to move around and then press an action button to interact every now and again. In essence, a third-person ‘walking simulator’. But the world only reveals itself (in a beautiful, painterly fashion) when it makes sounds and smells, meaning that the player often has to walk into a pure blank white expanse of nothing with little knowledge of what’s there, hoping that they’ll find something significant or be going the wrong way. Once you’ve passed through, the world fades away again as you ‘forget’ exactly what was there.

An interesting twist on this, from time to time, is that not everything is as it seems – what Rae thinks she hears, and what is actually there can sometimes be radically different, and this is used to great effect throughout Rae’s short journey through her local neighborhood (the game takes about 2-3 hours on average, although I took much longer – see below!). Without wanting to spoil the surprise for the reader, I can vouch that there are some interesting and touching surprises in store using this device.

Not only are there surprises, but there are several things that Rae – as a young, delicate child who’s unsure of her surroundings, finds scary and difficult to deal with. These things often form barriers to progress (such as dogs barking, or a flock of seagulls that she can’t perceive quite 100%) and whilst simple, they mesh together with the narrative and back story so well that you don’t really mind.

And so the game is a journey of a young girl’s courage to overcome her limitations and fears in order to find her feline friend. That this takes place in such an average everyday setting only makes it all the more touching – you really have a chance to experience how Rae feels as she explores the surrounding town’s streets – both her fears and her joy found in simple things.

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The slow pace of the game suits the subject matter, but I would have liked an option to move slightly faster – traversal at points was often laborious and felt unnecessary. However, it’s difficult to see how this could have been achieved – there’s no way a blind, timid young girl would do anything else other than step cautiously through an environment that she doesn’t recognise very well. This was compounded in one particular section for me – on a pier, where I spent ages walking around in circles, unable to find an object that I needed to solve one of the sparse puzzles in the game. This quickly became frustrating – I was lost for about 45 minutes! A little more variety in the environment of that section would have made things a lot easier for me.

Ultimately though, I feel I learned a lot having played Beyond Eyes. It allowed me to empathise with the fears and thoughts of a young child caught in a world that they can no longer fully comprehend, and it used simple and elegant devices to show just how much more we can achieve with video games with what we’ve already got, without any need for hi-res textures, particles effects and virtual reality.

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