In a world where everyone wants to be represented fairly in movies, gaming and even novels (yeah, there’s been cases of that before) we do tend to forget that there are some who don’t have a voice. That’s why I was extremely happy to see a host of new games featuring characters with disabilities as this can both be used to create dynamic gameplay elements and also bring forth playable characters we don’t normally see, at all! Ian’s Eyes takes the bold step by introducing a blind boy in possibly the worst situation of all: starting at a new school …. when zombies attack. Poor kid.
Ian’s Eyes is an interesting concept which involves the struggles of a blind boy starting at a new school with his trusty guide dog by his side. After being introduced by the rather creepy headmaster, Ian and his dog, North, attend a special assembly where a time capsule is unearthed for all the students and teachers to see. But a strange and blinding light consumes all that is good and turns everyone into mindless zombies. Everyone except Ian and North. Now they alone must survive the horrifying nightmare and escape the school. With the aid of your guide dog, you must evade the patrolling hordes of zombie children and teachers and escape the building alive.
Players will have to explore the, now ruined, school and evade the patrolling groups of zombies as North guides Ian through hallways, gardens, classrooms and more. Apart from evading your former classmates, players will have to solve puzzles with Ian and the help of North and also fight back (as North acts as a power deterrent with his loud bark). Yet if you leave Ian alone for too long or bark too loudly, he will become scared and freak out, which means his classmates will know where he is and end up converging on the two protagonists.
The game does well to present a great amount of tension and fear, though it’s nerve wrecking at times, and with the constant threat always lingering you’re never given the chance to relax. This, along with Ian’s situation of having to rely on North, helps increase the tension. The concept is great and the visuals are also rather wonderful. They remind me fondly of something out of a Tim Burton film. Everything is oddly oversized and quirky yet the horror elements really do shine through with some creepy and weird imagery.
Yet the game has some big issues which, sadly, hold it back.
Now, I understand the technical mastery of using fixed cameras to effectively raise the tension, but what Ian’s Eyes doesn’t realize is that games like Resident Evil didn’t imply a one hit rule. What I mean by that is, you die in one hit and often enough when you turn the corner there’s always something there waiting for you. But the radius for the enemies to notice you is also an issue as it seems to vary massively. I can walk past a zombie and be miles away and suddenly they’ll just zoom towards me. Other times I could be pretty close and they’re just not bothered. Mostly, they’re pretty sensitive and from a few meters away can detect and attack you. But the awkward controls are the final nail in the coffin for this list of issues is that turning, running and just walking feels too clunky for the game.
The game is formulated with a trial and error design, meaning you’re going to die a lot and start over again. Which is fine. I like games like this, but the game keeps an annoying death counter and it seems massively unfair seeing as death usually results a little too often.
There are some factors which make the NPCs a little too unbearable. Unbalanced enemy AIs usually have erratic movements and poorly placed patrol patterns which make certain segments just too difficult to get through. What did annoy me the most, and actually infuriated me so much to the point I almost throw my laptop across the room, was how awfully laid out certain platforming segments were. There’s a moment just after you attempt to escape via a window (which fails) and you enter another classroom with four enemies. Now, three of them are patrolling incredibly quickly, which is hard enough as you move pretty slowly and you can’t separate North and Ian for any tactical reason as Ian won’t move by himself. There is little room to keep the enemies at bay as barking just makes them move towards you no matter what, due to the confined area. Also, doing the special bark breaks Ian and North up, so you have to join back together as quickly as possible and by that time the enemies have regained their senses and will attack you. This, along with another two equally testing moments, just made it extremely difficult to progress through.
It’s just down to badly set up encounters and the restriction of the mechanics. If you could get North to Bark and Ian could slowly move by himself then this could work. Or just to space out or slow down the enemy’s movement would, again, really help out.
The game was also broken in some other areas as certain puzzles didn’t need to be fully completed. There was a particular box puzzle which I completed by collecting only one of the two boxes. Other puzzles are simple yet just don’t have any real sense to them. On a final note, Ian is just plain annoying. His voice actor is annoying and he is just an annoying character who whines and moans. Yeah, I know he’s blind, but he’s just so whiny.
Ian’s Eyes is an interesting concept for a survival horror title. It has all the right elements but its execution is flawed. Certain segments just feel broken. It’s unbalanced during platforming sections and Ian’s just an annoying character that makes you invest very little in the story. If the developers made some improvements to the controls, enemy balancing and just made Ian a little less whiny, then we’d have a pretty decent little title. But it falls short of being a charming, quirky little horror title.
A PC Review Code for Ian’s Eyes was provided by SOEDESCO Publishing for the purpose of this review