Original, immersive and stunning, three words that perfectly describe Tiger and Squid’s Beyond Eyes. Previewed at this years EGX Rezzed, this game intrigued me because it really isn’t a game that you can watch other people play and truly appreciate, you need to experience it yourself.
Beyond Eyes puts you in the shoes of a young blind girl named Rae with one simple goal, locating her cat. Despite what many of us would consider a mediocre task for a video game, the journey this game takes us on is much more about the struggles Rae faces as a blind girl and how the everyday sounds sighted people dismiss can have a profound effect on how she perceives the world around her.
What is fascinating is how the game brings this struggle to life through a dynamic world which literally paints itself. Initially, Rae’s world is pure white other than the garden she’s so familiar with, with the rest of everything being a giant featureless expanse of nothing. But as you begin to explore the surroundings Rae’s senses paint the world as you touch, smell and hear things which her imagination brings to life. This world is not always what it appears to be though much as life in the real world for the blind may not be.
Imagine, for example, you hear a dog barking, depending on your opinion on dogs you may assume that the dog is aggressive only to find that when you finally see the dog it’s actually being playful. This game brings that thought process to life in an incredibly artistic way. When Rae hears a sound, that sound appears as a visual representation in the distance, it may be an animal noise or a bell-tower, what the player perceives is what Rae’s thought process has determined that sound to mean. So the example with the dog, where initially the game might display an angry aggressive K9, as you move closer to the animal it begins to change.
This abstract perception varies considerably and once you’ve had a little time to understand the concept you find yourself looking ahead and wondering what’s coming next, if the object you can see and hear is actually not something different.
One of the more interesting examples of this is the sound from a fountain near her house, Rae recognises that sound of the water flowing only to discover it is actually a sewage drain she’s hearing. From our perception as the sighted gamer, the change from pure to filth is dramatic and so stunningly brought to life.
Visually, I’ve never seen a game like it, Beyond Eyes is an artistic masterpiece to admire. Even in the unfinished version shown at Rezzed, the way the environment builds itself as you explore is like watching someone create a watercolour painting it’s surreal. As the premise of the game itself draws you into the environment and encourages you to really examine the world around you none of the great work on the look ever goes to waste.
This is also one of the few games you’re ever likely to play where the audio can have such a massive impact of the overall gaming experience. The audio elements to this game really feel like a cast of characters, because you need to interact and pay attention to the noise around you in order to understand why Rae’s imagination has created what you see, the integration of the audio and visual is done very well.
Creative Director Sherida Halatoe, originally from the Netherlands, is the brains behind the concept, having worked on the project for three years, first as a school project and then as a career, it’s safe to say that she has a passion for this project. Now thanks to a publishing deal with Team 17 she is able to bring the game not only to the PC but also to the console masses, first through the Xbox One and then on to the PlayStation 4.
Beyond Eyes isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but for those looking for something very different from the smorgasbord of titles released every year this is one to follow, it’s potentially a genre definer.
A very interesting thought experiment if nothing else, the concept is superbly original, the manner in which the developer has translated what a blind person may “see” into a visual representation is a stroke of genius.
Coming to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows PC in Q2 2015, Beyond Eyes is still awaiting an official release date.