Wandering and Wondering While in Search of a Friend – Beyond Eyes

Beyond Eyes is a unique and beautiful concept for a game. Unfortunately, it lacks the magic that its charming pastel presentation suggests. Beyond Eyes puts us in the shoes of a sweet and lonely little blind girl named Rae as she explores the area beyond her front yard to find her cat. As Rae roams her surroundings she gains an understanding of them. This understanding is portrayed on screen by the world been solid white and objects forming around her as she passes near them.

Rae was not born blind, but lost her sight in an accident and this has left her disconnected from the world. She is without friends and her parents are no where to be found. When a curious cat starts to visit he quickly becomes Rae’s only friend. For a time, her cat whom she names Nani, comforts her and gives value to her world, but one day disappears. Without the companionship Nani provides Rae’s world feels empty.  Rae decides she must venture out, find Nani and bring him home.

This premise did an excellent job of showing what matters to Rae and creating a sense of urgency to keep me motivated, but it also created a sense of fear. While the hope of being reunited with Nani is an uplifting goal, when someone goes missing, even if that someone is a cat, I can’t help but feel a nagging concern for his wellbeing.

Beyond Eyes has a beautiful aesthetic. The world appears as Rae gets close enough to determine what any given object is. She uses her experience to predict what objects may be creating certain sounds and she doesn’t always guess correctly. As she explores the landscape she discovers new wonders and dangers while gaining a better understanding of the world. Watching objects that sound like waterfalls morph into drainpipes is a fascinating experience, but it doesn’t happen nearly enough. This is meant to be a journey of discovery, both of self and environment, but Rae doesn’t do a lot of either… and never without a great deal of patience.

There are little wonders hidden throughout the game, but finding them is a chore. There are achievements for discovering each of these magical moments, but for some reason every achievement is labelled as “secret” and offers no clues on where these discoveries may be located or how to find them. I played the entire game without stumbling across a single one. It wasn’t for lack of trying as I enjoyed bringing the world to life and tried to explore each area and give form to everything present while trying to interact with what I found.

Rae moves very slowly. This is perfectly logical as she can’t see so she must be cautious in her exploration. This presents a problem from a gameplay standpoint though as it makes backtracking and searching often feel like a chore. It’s fine if when entering a new area as trees, buildings, streets and animals all take form as Rae approaches them, but once the thrill of discovery is gone every simple task, such as just crossing the street, becomes tedious. On top of that there is lingering concern for Nani. It’s hard to stop and smell the roses when the fate of my feline friend remains unknown.

When I reached the end, a brisk 90 minutes after I began, Beyond Eyes triggered a solid emotional response. I was moved by the story of this little girl, but I was also frustrated that my time with her had been so fleeting and the adventure so shallow. I wanted to know more about Rae. Where are her parents? Does she ever go to school? I never really got to know her.

Fortunately, it’s possible to replay any of the game’s chapters after they are complete. This made it possible to go back to find what would trigger all the secret achievements. I decided to find what the criteria for each achievement was by searching online, as I wasn’t eager to spend hours aimlessly wandering at Rae’s modest speed. I’m glad I looked them up and I’m glad I followed through. Finding each achievement without the hint of knowing what unlocks it would have been a lengthy and frustrating task. Many of these goals are obtuse or even nonsensical. For one Rae must pick a flower, drop it off a bridge, then go unstick it when it gets stuck to a rock. I accept that Rae has a good handle on her surroundings, but I have no idea how she would know a silently floating flower got stuck to a rock downstream. Even when I knew exactly what the goal was a few achievements were needlessly tricky to accomplish. When these moments work they’re delightful instances of discovery and wonder, such as when Rae slowly finds herself surrounded by butterflies, but some of them are so well hidden that stumbling across them is just too unlikely to be the result of casual exploration.

Had these little discoveries been a bit easier to stumble upon and the tone of the game been more optimistic than melancholy my time with Rae would have been a more fulfilling experience. This would have inspired a greater desire for discovery and some of the more disheartening moments would have had greater impact. I liked Rae and I wish my time with her had resulted in a better understanding of her view of the world. It was an interesting albeit brief experience where the wonders of the world were tragically too easily missed while real tragedy always seemed just around the corner. Perhaps that’s how Rae really feels. Maybe I didn’t miss the point and just didn’t want to see it. I hope not, I hope Rae’s life is filled with joy and wonder and that the feelings of loss and loneliness move to the sidelines where they belong.

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Cognizant Gamer

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