Art, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power. Art is a word that is thrown around a lot within the video game culture, from insightful indie developers making games like Lifeless Planet, the ultra-realism aesthetic and accurate car models in Forza, the beautiful looks of Ori and The Blind Forest, to narrative masterpieces like The Last of Us. It is a word that is evocative, in some cases warranted and, more often than naught, it is a flimsy defence for Hipsters to once again buck the trend, but it is always a matter of perception. What I consider art will almost certainly differ from what you do, or the art teacher you had at school. That is the beauty of art, no matter the medium you decide to apply your craft, there will undoubtedly be someone that that will defend your work to the bitter end.
The reason I am making such a big deal out of the concept is this: I had a hard time figuring out Beyond Eyes. During my time with the game I was rating it on my usual reviewer critique, Beyond Eyes has no antagonist, it has no enemies and it has no contest or competition in it, there’s no fancy gimmicks, no weaponry and no “excitement”. I have to admit that I was scratching my head at this conundrum because I was enjoying the experience but I couldn’t quite categorise it.
So here is, what might turn out to be, the controversial statement: Beyond Eyes is not a video game.
There are elements within Beyond Eyes, elements of exploration, story and puzzles, that would indicate a game is present, but I can’t truthfully say that any of these make the game. Instead, I have chosen to look at Beyond Eyes a little differently. Beyond Eyes is Art, and this is why.
You play as Rae, a ten-year-old girl who has lost her sight, adjusting to her new life as a blind girl. Rae is lonely. A stray cat named Nani wanders into Rae’s garden and Rea finds her first friend since she lost her sight. One day Nani doesn’t show up, time passes and Rae gets worried about her friend and in a touching moment of concern and love, Rae ventures out from the safety of her garden, out into the world to find her friend. Yeah, OK, it sounds a little cheesy to me as well but even me, a self-confessed cynical old man in a twenty-something year old’s body, found it touching.
You are introduced to the basic mechanics of Beyond Eyes in Rae’s garden. The world is a startling white screen, entirely blank but for a small radius around you. This is how Rae experiences the world, through sounds and smells. Traveling around the environment shows Rae her surroundings, the distant flap of a washing line and the trickling of a fountain give some direction to the early stages and gave me a point to focus on in the abyss of whiteness. It is a fantastic concept from Tiger and Squid and one that is unique. Experiencing the environment through different senses and sights isn’t a new addition to gaming, hell there have been games that have been doing that for years, but by making Rae blind, and her world entirely open to interpretation, it makes Beyond Eyes one of a kind.
The artwork is amazing, it looks less like a video game and more like painting on a canvas. It is beautiful and works well with the limited field of “vision” that we, the player, get to see. Animations are smooth and graphically, I struggled to find anything wrong with it per say. I found that Rae was great at smelling and sensing things like flowers, bridges and the like but she was useless at detecting walls (yes, I realise she is blind and yes, I do feel like a dick for saying it). Rae’s range of detection is usually about two steps in any direction but I found that walls would only show up when I was right on top of them. Often walking face first into a wall while I was completely oblivious. This wouldn’t have been so much of an issue, however the control system is not that responsive. Rae would often get stuck on trees, the sides of fences or trash cans. It didn’t feel like I was sharing Rae’s challenges in navigating the world, I just felt put off by it. There is no running in Beyond Eyes and in some levels, there is quite a distance to travel. After the first hour or so, watching the beautiful art style wasn’t quite enough for me and I got bored. This was when I still considered Beyond Eyes a “game”.
Once Rae is wandering the outside world, the impact of this style of expression becomes evident. I was walking along and saw a flapping washing line in the distance, it was only when I got right on top of it that Rae realised that it was a scarecrow (squawking birds included) that frightened her. The whiteness of the distance dimmed, Rae changed from the upbeat and plucky kid I had seen so far, to a very frightened little girl. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no danger in the game, I just backed away from the scary thing, but the change in visuals and Rae herself done more than any cutscene or Quick Time Event ever could.
There are a few instances of things like this, where we imagined a fountain we actually found an overflow pipe, where we thought we smelled fish, we found the sewers. It’s really a fantastic concept but it is one that I don’t think is suited to gaming, I wouldn’t call it a mechanic as much as I would call it: Artistic. And that’s my point here.
The story may seem mundane, it may even scream its “cheese factor” as loud as possible, but after playing to the end of the game, I can safely say, yes it is a mundane story, but it is well told and it is a touching one.
I finished Beyond Eyes in just a couple of hours, it isn’t exactly a 100+ hour RPG after all, but I think it lasted the right amount of time, any longer and the novelty of this new experience would wear off and sour the whole thing. Beyond Eyes won’t be the most exciting thing you play this year, it probably won’t be the most emotional or dynamic, but it is something that is arguably better than those. It is a NEW idea, a fresh concept, not some reworked reboot or regurgitated cliché. Beyond Eyes is an expression of creative skill and imagination, it is a work to be appreciated primarily for its beauty, in both the aesthetic and concept. And that is why I think Beyond Eyes might be the best piece of art for your Xbox One this year.
Beyond Eyes is a strange one, as strange as it sounds, I wouldn’t consider this a “game”. “Art” is a word that is thrown around in video games but I have yet to see a game that epitomises Art more than Beyond Eyes. It is a new idea and a fantastic concept but I fear that the average gamer won’t make the distinction. The art design is fantastic, though repetitive gameplay and sometimes awkward controls can make Beyond Eyes seem unpalatable. Beyond Eyes should be on your wish list if you want something new from your gaming, but I don’t expect any Game of The Year Awards here.
Graphics – 92/100
Value For Money— 61/100
Overall – 62