PC, PS4, Xbox One
Representing blindness in a visual medium is quite the challenge, but Tiger & Squid has found an inventive and attractive way to do so. Rae, blinded in a childhood accident, steps out into a world of white that is steadily coloured in as she explores, thanks to a combination of memory, imagination and the feedback of other senses. Thus the area around her becomes an evolving, permanently incomplete piece of watercolour art that’s gradually painted into existence. Distant sounds – a chirruping bird, a creaking fairground ride – appear as pulsing orbs, fading in and out until Rae gets close enough for her mind’s eye to ‘see’ them.
As Rae leaves the comforting surroundings of her garden and heads into the wider world to search for Nani, her missing cat, we see a smiling, inquisitive girl who’s keen not to let her impairment dent her curiosity. She lets out a quiet gasp when the path inclines and she realises she’s on a bridge; later, she gingerly crosses stepping stones with a combination of nervousness and evident delight. Naturally, her journey takes her into more perilous territory, and though she’s never under any serious threat, we sense her reluctance to press on. As her mood darkens, so too do the colours of her world, the ambient soundtrack growing more ominous as she instinctively hunches over, crossing her arms protectively over her chest.
She isn’t to know that a barking dog is tucked safely behind a fence, of course, and Beyond Eyes is at its most affecting when playing with the idea of her remaining senses being somewhat unreliable guides. One standout sequence sees a rainstorm curtail the visual cues to the immediate vicinity, evoking a tangible sensation of both disorientation and claustrophobia – the feeling of being trapped in a tiny part of a big world. It’s a pity, then, that Beyond Eyes never quite explores or develops this concept as fully as you would hope.
Something it achieves more successfully is the frustration of sensory impairment. Rae’s movements are careful and her walking speed very slow. When progress involves making your way towards the source of a sound that’s seemingly close by, but means tracing a circuitous route, we gain empathy for Rae’s condition, but these sections will test the patience of even forgiving players. No doubt that’s the point, but the sheer number of winding paths feels contrived, while occasional inconsistencies rankle: there’s no good reason why some walls should appear from a distance, while others only reveal themselves on contact. By the time a touching coda sweetens the bitter taste of an abrupt ending, an emotive game has, like its lead, wandered down one cul-de-sac too many.
Heightened senses may be able to compensate for a lost one, yet for its two-to-three-hour span, BeyondEyes mostly explores improved hearing; Rae’s sense of smell is considered, but factors only into a single fetchquest