Adventure Gamers Awards
Imagine the world as a blank white canvas – a world where you cannot see anything. Your daily life, crossing busy car-filled streets and navigating yards with barking dogs, becomes treacherous as you rely only on your other senses to make your way through it all. It can be scary, yet still leave room for a life of wonder and beauty, as we learn in the interactive tale of young Rae in Beyond Eyes. This serene meditation on experiencing life without sight will have you exploring its imagined world in a new and utterly gorgeous way, even if it is devoid of puzzles and light on any actual gameplay along the way.
The story begins with young Rae playing with her friends on a sunny summer day. The world is rendered in 3D entirely using a watercolor scheme. Pastels and summery greens present a bucolic backdrop for the play of happy children. Their lighthearted laughter fills the air, as do the pop and boom of multicolored fireworks… And then the lone wail of an ambulance. And the screen goes white.
Pale tendrils of color fill the screen once again, finally allowing you to view young Rae first in a hospital bed and then after a while perched on a bench. She appears seated by herself, but an ocher-colored cat soon joins her; Rae calls the cat Nani. Nani visits often, the sound of his mewing drawing Rae around the yard as she follows the feline in a simple game of hide and seek. The game is complicated, however, because Rae has lost her sight, presumably as a result of fireworks gone awry.
To help Rae navigate her suddenly handicapped world, you’ll use simple controls. I played the game on PC, using my mouse to pan the camera around and the WASD keys to move Rae. The space bar allows you to interact with objects in the game, though any interactivity is few and far between. You will have the occasional turnstile to climb over or stepping stone to hop across.
The world is a blank slate for you just as it is for Rae, making exploration a challenge. But unlike Rae, as you slowly move her character forward, the world around you will fill in with translucent swirls of color that solidify bit by bit into actual objects, rewarding your exploration with beauty. At times, as you look off into the white distance, shimmering colors accompanied by sound like the tinkle of Nani’s bell will pulse at the periphery of your vision and hearing. By listening closely and looking carefully, you’ll be able to determine where the sound is coming from and move Rae in that direction.
Time passes as you explore Rae’s immediate environs, with the initial warm summer dripping into the mellow yellows, oranges, and burnt siennas of fall before crystalizing into the crisp white of winter. As spring unfurls again, Rae decides to leave the comfort of her home to explore the world looking for Nani, who has begun to visit her less frequently.
Outside of Rae’s home the world is much less comforting, surrounding you with the deep distant gongs of church bells or the sudden flap of wings as you disturb a flock of birds that suddenly breaks into flight. Though your movement in the game never progresses beyond a very slow walk, there are still moments of tension heightened by the game’s method of slowly unveiling your path before you. I could hear the burbling of a creek and made my way toward it. As my white screen filled in with color, I saw the water below me and slowly moved ahead, hesitating. But just as it seemed I would step directly into the water and I could feel vertigo rising in me, charcoal grey swirls solidified into the stones of a bridge that I hadn’t realized I had stepped onto, safely transporting me across the chattering stream.
Beyond Eyes makes wonderful use of sound and music, with a serene interplay of wind instruments and piano weaving through the background; the music intensifies as Rae encounters dangers out in the world. As Rae explores, you’ll hear the lowing of cows or the plip, plip, plip of raindrops pattering on an open umbrella. Her footsteps change from the hard slap of boots on stones to the soft crunch over grass as she moves from one area to the next. There is very little voice acting, with Rae occasionally calling out Nani’s name in a quiet voice or conversing only a few words with a little girl she meets. Rae will often softly moan in fear when she meets with scary and unfamiliar sounds.Continued on the next page...