Platforms: Xbox One, PC, Mac & Linux
We played on: PC
Beyond Eyes is a game about a 10-year-old girl named Rae who’s spent the last year cloistered in her garden. She lost her sight a year ago, and it’s left her feeling very alone. Luckily a fat ginger cat, who Rae names “Nani,” befriends her. One day Nani stops visiting, though. And Rae leaves the garden to find her.
Beyond Eyes reminded me of watching Beatrix Potter movies when I was little. There aren’t any anthropomorphic animals in this story, but the setting is so familiar it feels like Rae might run into Jemima Puddle Duck at any moment. Not to imply that it’s derivative—it’s a good thing! I love that dreamy, rainy feeling. Nobody talks much, and it all seems very peaceful. An everyday kind of story, it’s also absolutely kid-appropriate (and rated E for Everyone).
Although Rae is blind, she does “see.” As the player you are privy to an imaginary world that Rae envisions in a short radius around her. Whenever she gets some extra sensory input—like a crow squawking or a smelly pile of fish—we “see” that, too. The edges of her world bleed out almost like a watercolor painting. Sometimes we’re sharply reminded that Rae doesn’t actually see anything; something she mistook as laundry drying in the wind is really crows rustling on a scarecrow. She’s also more afraid than most kids might be of mundane things like a dog barking at ducks. A busy street is a terrifying wall of swirling black smoke.
Despite the many dangers (keep in mind Rae can’t actually be hurt), the game is very beautiful. The graphics are simplistic but smooth, and you can almost feel the atmosphere. And even though you can technically see, you find yourself listening for sounds to alert you to new pathways or threats. Piles of fish or sewer grates—even though you obviously can’t smell them—are easy to imagine. One of the things the game does really well is remind you that obstacles like stone walls aren’t easy to sense without sight. They’ll pop up seemingly out of nowhere.
I’m not convinced that Beyond Eyes is an accurate depiction of what it’s like to be blind. But at the very least, it’s an important exercise in getting you to think about how to make the world easier for people who are. Why an auditory crosswalk is essential, for instance. Why barriers near water are needed. I don’t know if Rae knows braille, but I definitely found myself wishing there was some way—any way—to read the signs that surrounded me.
I’m torn between wanting to praise the game for maintaining the degree of realism it did and wanting to beg for something more interesting. For instance, Rae walks infuriatingly slowly. It’s reasonable that she would, of course, but at times it made the game into a frustrating slog, particularly if I was lost and doubling back across paths I’d already traversed. (Multiple times. I don’t have a wonderful sense of direction, in game or out.) There’s something valuable about a game that forces you to experience that, I think. But I also found myself annoyed to the point of boredom several times, which isn’t a good recipe for keeping players engaged.
On that same note, I found myself wanting to see and experience more as I wandered through Rae’s small world. I would’ve liked to get to know other people in the town, or to uncover more stories. One time I stumbled across a statue of a man and a dog in a town square. I wanted to know who they were and why they were important enough to have a statue. I’m not sure how it would be done exactly, but it would’ve made exploring the world more meaningful if there was more going on than just seagulls and barking dogs—despite the fact that it’s probably more realistic as is. And the sparseness probably does contribute to Rae’s loneliness without Nani.
It’s a short game, and it probably would have been shorter if I hadn’t gotten lost so much. The ending is a good example of what I wanted from Beyond Eyes. I won’t spoil it, but it was worth the two and a half hours just for the last 10 minutes or so.