Like many gamers, my first exposure to Sherida Halatoe‘s debut title, Beyond Eyes, was during E3 when Microsoft brought her up on stage to showcase her game as part of the ID@Xbox program. It looked interesting, and, unlike most of what was shown, had a 2015 release. That date has come and gone now, and it’s time to see if Beyond Eyes is worth seeing for yourself.
You play as Rae, a young girl who was blinded in a fireworks mishap and has become isolated from the world around her. Into that darkness comes Nani, a cat that becomes Rae’s best friend. As the seasons turn Nani’s visits become less frequent, however, and they eventually stop altogether. Determined to track down her friend, Rae summons the courage to leave the safety of her garden.
Rae’s blindness means she doesn’t see the world as you or I, and instead only perceives limited chunks of her surroundings when she gets close enough to them. Watching the world spring into existence as you move is the best part of Beyond Eyes. There’s a serenity and a calmness as beautiful flowers and trees crop up, bridges appear as you cross them and animal sounds create pulsating glimpses of color in an otherwise white world.
A peaceful soundtrack goes along with the nice scenery, lending another layer to the unique presentation, though for a game about someone that can’t see sound doesn’t play as big a part as you might think. A lot of times sound is used as a means for objects to appear so you have an idea of where you need to travel next. That’s fine, but it might’ve been nice to have Rae receive more frequent audio clues, or have sounds get louder to let you know you’re headed in the right direction.
Where Beyond Eyes stumbles markedly is with the gameplay. Pretty much the entire game is spent walking incredibly slowly and mapping out where you can and can’t go while trying to pick up Nani’s trail. I understand Rae is blind, and that this isn’t supposed to be an action game, but having her move at such a glacial pace dissuades exploration. It was probably done,at least in part, to pad out the game’s run time, which is at best 2-3 hours, though that won’t make you any less frustrated.
Things reach their crescendo during the rain-soaked fifth chapter where areas you visit essentially wash away shortly after you move past them. Without the revealed sections to keep your bearings it’s easy to get lost and wander aimlessly around in a mostly whitewashed screen, bumping into objects with no clear idea of even which direction you should go — and, of course, you’ll be doing all of this veeeeeery sloooooowly…
While Beyond Eyes tells a sweet story, and does so in visually appealing fashion, it’s completely hamstrung by the painstakingly slow pace and uninteresting way you interact with the world.