The minute I saw Beyond Eyes on Steam, I was interested. A female protagonist with a disability, gorgeous art, and a mechanic that aims to put the player in the shoes of the blind protagonist were obvious selling points for me. Of course, it’s far too frequent that the playable character(s) in a computer game is/are white, male, able-bodied, and violent, so this was a refreshing change of pace. The game is a short story-driven adventure with gentle music, art reminiscent of watercolor painting, and text narration. You navigate the world as Rae, a blind ten-year-old girl who lost her sight as a toddler. The game’s creator, who is not blind but consulted with multiple blind folks to get a sense of blind perspective when working on the game, describes Beyond Eyes as “a video game about loss.” It is certainly that, in a way you don’t expect. But it’s also a game about sight, sensation, perception, and one’s own internal sense of the world.
Unlike some indie games about vision loss, Beyond Eyes doesn’t fully take away the player’s visual cues and force you to rely on sound to navigate. I appreciate this as a hard-of-hearing person—for a game that’s about putting the player in the shoes of someone with a visual disability, it’s nice that it’s accessible to pretty much everyone except those who have that specific disability. Instead of taking away visual cues, the game limits visual cues and uses those limitations to approximate the blind experience for a player with vision. As Rae, you only see on the screen what she can perceive, so you find the world in bits and pieces as she walks around it. As an exploration game and as a walking simulator, this mechanic definitely makes it a bit different. The visual field beyond what Rae has already discovered is white, and so you can’t rely on sight at a distance to decide where to go.
Beyond the disorientation of this basic mechanic, there are also more subtle elements that give you a sense of Rae’s perspective. Early on in the game, you realize that a cool thing is happening. What you’re seeing is not limited to what Rae perceives with other senses exactly, as I’d originally assumed (and been a bit skeptical of, since you actually see a fair bit as soon as she touches one thing), but what she imagines based on that perception. Since she doesn’t always imagine what’s actually there, it’s useful to touch and get closer to the things you can see as a player, as they may change when she experiences them further. You also get (sound and smell) cues from more of a distance sometimes, which can be helpful for making your way.
There is actual sound (as well as music) in the game, but Deaf and HH folks will be fine, as there’s no spoken narration and any sounds that are useful for navigation are echoed with visual cues (a crowing bird pulses on the screen, for example). In a practical sense, the game does also guide you somewhat by putting obstacles down when you’re getting way off track. There’s sparse text narration and occasional cuts from one “scene” to another to give a sense of pacing. I did get a bit lost at a couple of points, so the playthrough took 2.6 hours for me, but it didn’t get so frustrating that I ever wanted to stop playing the game.
Beyond the specifics of mechanics, I really like this game for mood and atmosphere. The visual style, music, text, and the story itself all give this game a lovely and distinct feel. It’s calm, but melancholy, and really evokes emotions in the player. You can feel for the girl you’re playing as, but she’s not presented as a victim or someone you need to “save” as the player, which I appreciate. I would recommend playing in a single sitting for an immersive experience—it’s also not super clear if there’s a way to pause or save, so I wouldn’t risk quitting the game. If you’re familiar with other indie adventure games, I’d say it’s similar in mood and feels factor to Gone Home, though it’s not point-and-click and you do have to get used to the fact that your interaction with the world as a player is entirely about walking exploration — there are no resources to grab or journals to read.
You can get Beyond Eyes for less than $15 on Steam, depending on the sale price of the moment, for Mac/OS/Linux, or for either of the current-gen consoles.