The beautiful slow gameplay of Beyond Eyes
How does one play an immersive watercolour-style videogame where the main character is blind? It sounds impossible, but Beyond Eyes proves that the end result can be captivating and emotional.
The storyline of Beyond Eyes is simple. You are a young girl named Rae who recently became blind. One day your cat goes missing and you leave the safety of your garden on a mission to find it.
The game does have visuals, but they are transitory, changing based on what your character can touch and hear. It’s in beautiful watercolour style too, to further accentuate the shifting nature of a world illustrated by non-visual senses. Much of the game involves excessive amounts of whitespace, which is lonely and disorienting, although areas you’ve already explored stay coloured in until you’ve moved far enough away from the area.
It works like this. You can see the immediate metre or so area around you. You take a step forward, hear a footfall, and the ground another metre in front of you draws itself in with the material it’s most likely to be. Hard footfall will probably result in concrete, soft will probably be grass or sand, crunchy might be gravel. As you reach obstacles they draw themselves in too, sometimes changing into different objects when you realise what they actually are. Furthermore, when new noises sound, like a bird cawing or a bell ringing in the distance, the region the noise comes from will splash with colour, trying to illustrate what it probably is.
One event that really stuck with me was this. Early on you hear water in the distance and, because the girl has a fountain in her garden, a fountain draws itself in. It seems light and airy and pretty, so I went towards it. But getting closer, suddenly the air turns sour and the scene changes. The girl has just walked into a sewage outflow that was dripping and splashing. Similar sound, different reality. But this happening so early on makes you conscious that the visual world you’re being presented with is nothing but an illustration of everything you’ve heard or smelled or touched so far, and may be completely inaccurate. It makes you slow down, take extra caution. All the world could be a lie. Crossing the road was terrifying.
Nobody really talks in the game. Communication is done in Zelda style – by short garbled noises that pass for full phrases. This makes localisation easier, and furthers the feeling that the player has just entered a completely alien world. The only irony is that this game is not very accessible for blind people.
Beyond Eyes was one of the most interesting and effective short game experiences I’ve played. I’d recommend it – it only takes about an hour but the effects will stick with you far longer than that.
Made by Tiger & Squid, and published by Team17 last year, Beyond Eyes is available on Playstation Network, XBox One and Steam.
screenshots by H. Ferrie, © Tiger & Squid