Here at Pure Xbox we pretty much always write articles from the third person perspective. It allows us to present a more professional tone, we feel. From time to time, the Editor (hey there!) will pen an Editor's Opinion piece from his own point of view but other than that, the third person perspective is the order of the day.
This review of Beyond Eyes though, is written by me, from me, for you. I'll explain why a little further down the page, if you'll do me the kindness of bearing with me for just a while longer. It's been a fair few years since I've written a review from anything other than the perspective of the publication that I'm writing for, but I have to here.
Beyond Eyes is a relatively short game that features Rae, a 10-year-old girl that lost her sight after an accident involving fireworks when she was much younger. She's understandably scared of sudden loud noises and spends most of her time in her special garden, alone but safe. That is, until a fat cat she names Nani turns up to keep her company.
The game begins when Nani goes missing and Rae decides to head off to find him, braving the entirely unfamiliar world which she can't actually see. To simulate this feeling, Beyond Eyes only shows you the world immediately surrounding Rae. As she walks through the environment, she'll remember the places that she's been, forming a picture of sorts in her mind that is painted on screen for you to see. So, once you've walked down a street, you'll be able to turn around and walk back up it and see the trees and flowers and benches and cobblestones as you'd expect to in any other game. Unless something has changed since you last traversed that particular path, that is. Maybe a car has driven off and no longer presents an obstacle. Maybe some intense rain is washing away Rae's mental picture of things due to the noise of the raindrops gradually throwing off her focus. Maybe she just misread a sound, or even simply forgot that something was there. What's that noise? Is that dog barking angrily as a warning or yapping happily because it wants you to pet it? These things are all important when you can't see.
From time to time, Rae picks up a sense of Nani and can visualise where he is and what he's doing, but it's only fleeting. With the world fading back into white behind you as you try to quickly form a mental picture of where you were, you'll try to walk towards the place where Nani is or was and find that a wall quickly draws in out of nowhere to stop you getting through. Something as trivial as a wall or fence could cause a great deal of damage if you can't see it and you stride right into it but fortunately, Rae's other senses will cause her to help as she reaches her hand out to feel along the unforgiving bricks and mortar and help you to get your bearings. As much as they can be gotten in your - once again - relatively barren mind's eye, of course.
At some point, much as you may have noticed as the roles and descriptors have changed in this review, Rae stops being a simple collection of pixels and colour and becomes more important than that. She becomes someone you want to protect. Someone that – as absolutely insane as it sounds – you'll find yourself reassuring out loud (as if she can hear you!) when she hunches up in a frightened manner as a nasty dog barks out at her in the distance. You'll smile when she finds something amusing and your heart rate will increase when she's threatened. One outstanding section involving a road relatively early on will have you almost wanting to dive behind the sofa for cover, in fear of what's about to happen. You'll want to help her find Nani. Not because you think it'll end the game, but so that she'll be happy given that she seems so lonesome without him.
It's this connection with the character that the developer has nurtured from the opening panels of the story that means that I simply don't feel that Beyond Eyes gives me any other option than to write in my own voice. Saying "we were scared for Rae when a trash can falls over" just isn't powerful enough when the truth is that when that simple trash can took a tumble, I wasn't scared that the character I was controlling would die as in other games, but simply that she herself would become scared as a result of the noise. Bear in mind that there's no real penalty for Rae becoming scared in the game and you'll realise that reaction is kind of incredible, when you sit back and really think about it. This game, that didn't even raise half of its crowdfunding goal in order to make it without a publisher, released without any fanfare at all, that had to compete with the hullabaloo of Microsoft's 2015 Gamescom Conference which occurred on the same day that it came out, has the ability to provide a more personal and real experience than the majority of the titles that are teased, trailered, alpha'd, beta'd, focus tested and otherwise promoted to hell and back with multi-million dollar budgets year in and year out.
Incredible it may be, but that is entirely the case.
If I'm to skip back into reviewer mode for a moment, it should be said that emotional rollercoaster or not, Beyond Eyes probably isn't for everyone. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the majority of people will either hate it for not containing enough standard by-the-numbers action or at the very least, they'll complain about how slow Rae walks. In actuality, she takes careful, calculated steps because it would be somewhat unfair to expect a blind person to go anywhere into an unknown land at any sort of a brisker pace. At the risk of entering "you just don't understand, man" territory, I believe that some simply won't "get" it. Treat the main character with some sort of empathy from the get-go and you'll have won half of the battle, though.
It could also be said that the puzzles are too simple. By description, they're basic fetch and carry routines that we've seen a million times before, but the ways in which you're impeded by Rae's lack of vision mean that you have to think a bit harder about them. Maybe you have to take Item X to Location Y, but where the heck was Location Y again? It could be somewhere that you were just a few moments ago, but if you lose track of where you are – there's no map, remember – you could be in trouble. If you don't get lost (which you probably will) then they could be considered to be too simple, I suppose.
It could definitely be said that the game is a might too short, weighing in at just a couple of hours. The achievements – one of which you get for finishing the story, while the rest are cleverly kept secret until you unlock them – will reward you for multiple playthroughs, as you'll find more and more things that you hadn't noticed last time around. I would definitely have welcomed another few chapters of that main story all the same. The art style is delicate and pleasing, with the world being painted in almost watercolour fashion as you proceed. Plus, I can't stress enough how refreshing it is to see a game that has absolutely no interface elements. If you want to know what Rae's carrying, you'll either have to remember what you told her to pick up, or pan the camera around so that you can see her hands. Anything else would detract from things immensely and the developer clearly realises this.
You will notice that up to this point, I haven't mentioned the ending or the epilogue so far. I'm not going to.
It simply wouldn't be fair to rob you of it.
Beyond Eyes is a breathtaking accomplishment. It's a game that not only entertains, but that also gets across some of the difficulties that a differently abled person would need to contend with, in a way that is entirely understandable by everyone. Difficulties that you probably hadn't even imagined before and that seem trivial are suddenly brought into stark relief and it takes a heck of a lot of talent to get that just right. If you approach the game correctly, it's a massively rewarding experience that will undoubtedly live long in your heart. There's definitely a feeling that there could have been more to it, but Beyond Eyes is an important game that is undeniably superb.