It would be natural for fans of 2017’s sleeper hit indie game Perception to be naturally attracted to Blind on sight. Ah yes, I should have warned readers that there will be puns! Ahem, those of us familiar with how the gaming industry works realize the improbability that Tiny Bull Studios might have been able to see *cough* Perception and envision *giggle* their own game within a year—and in VR no less! In actuality, the indie studio of four co-founders plus one recent new hire has been plugging away at Blind since 2014 when their initial concept, Come to See My House won Game Jam in Turin, Italy. The final project has arrived, and by the time you see this review, Blind will be available for digital release on PS VR, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift, the latter of which being my platform of choice.
Spoilers for a “walking simulator” such as Blind are akin to completely ruining the game, so while I will still be thorough here, I apologize in advance for some vagueness to protect major plot points. Celebrate Recovery-style hurts, habits, and hangups are central to the game’s plot, so expect to bear witness to some trauma. Alcoholism is introduced in the first hour of the game as a core family problem. Rage is highlighted later, as well as crushing guilt. As negative feelings swelter, they culminate into vehicular violence—a double entendre of sorts where further elaboration would do the game and developers a disservice. Blood is minimal, though colored in black and white in the style of the Sin City comics. Lastly, I can only recall usage of “s**t” and “d**n” used as swears, and sparingly at that.
It was a dark and stormy night. With her brother Sam in the passenger seat, Jean drives through the downpour when a man suddenly appears in the middle of the road. As they are probably not midwesterners and have never seen a “Don’t Veer for Deer” sign, the siblings off-road and crash. When Jean awakes, she is surprised to discover that she is blind (roll credits!). “Surprise” is the most generous word I can use to describe her response to this revelation. I believe that most humans who have lived with their eyesight long enough to drive, read, or play video games like Blind would be hysterical if they woke up one day to see. I would absolutely lose my mind, undergoing a cycle of hysterics from terror to rage to despair for a few days before entertaining any kind of consolation.
Jean, on the other hand, seems to overcome her new handicap in mere seconds after knocking something glass onto the floor. As Blind is a first-person game, the player should see the sound of the breaking glass cascade itself as light blanketing objects in Jean’s immediate vicinity. Like Perception, Blind uses echolocation as a core navigational mechanic, and players are ushered into the next room where a phonograph plays, illuminating the room. The voice of a man the developers designate as the Warden comes on, acting as a guide. But as Jean progresses through the first few puzzles to advance into the main hall, she realizes that he is also a jailer. Many questions arise as necessity dictates that she explore the house to find Sam, yet as some questions are answered, others follow until Jean makes a grand revelation that she must reconcile to herself.
While I formerly categorized Blind as a horror game, it by no means supports the kind of experience one should expect when playing Amnesia: Dark Descent or Five Nights at Freddy’s. The tone of this game reminds me of Gone Home, where exploring a large, (mostly) vacant, (mostly) silent house engenders enough anxiety in and of itself. The mere anticipation of a jump-scare even when it never comes is enough to keep me playing wide-eyed in pitch black darkness, ears perked. Blind rewarding me with the sudden appearance of flashback ghosts after successfully solving a puzzle is enough to scare me on more than one occasion, as I would not always be looking in their direction when they begin to speak, nor do they wait to begin their conversation until I was paying attention. Be still, my beating heart!
Early in the game, the Warden gives the player-as-Jean a walking cane. Consider this the easy mode for Blind; I used the motion controls of my Oculus Touch to tap my walking cane on the floor to emit the illuminating sound waves. I do not know if this is an intended effect, but being able to see, even like the Daredevil, makes me appreciate my own eyesight even more. Halfway through the game, Jean will be further handicapped when the walking stick becomes unavailable. Here is where hard mode begins, though I must compliment Tiny Bull Studios here, for they demonstrate the foresight *he-he* of offering an occasional lightning bolt that illuminates entire rooms roughly every five minutes in case players get stuck. One will have to do things like use their hands to feel for and follow walls as far as they will go. As Blind approached its finale, I walk around double-fisting anything not nailed down and toss them in front of me to produce noise so that I could “see.” When I lacked such a projectile, I became perturbed during long periods of aimless wandering. Having players experience the frustration of struggling to see, I feel, is precisely the developer’s intent; boldly flirting with potentially alienating gamers is quite the risk! In its own way, Blind’s final moments necessitated that I not git mad, but git gud.
One should take note that when the game is paused, there is an option for regenerating objects key to meeting objects. This is convenient, for VR is neither in its infancy nor has it achieved anywhere near its peak. Therefore, this option exists likely as a workaround as Bind suffers from a few minor problems. I learned how to navigate by tracing walls with my hands because the two objects I was chucking and picking up over and over went through a wall when I tried to toss them at point-blank range. Additionally, one puzzle supplies a snow globe designed to be a mobile music maker like a flashlight for a bat, but for some reason, my Oculus Touch would not activate this object while I solved a color-coded puzzle, even though the game prompted me to hit the trigger buttons. It was in this room, without my walking cane, where I learned the “toss everything” technique. (To my embarrassment, I did contact the developers to solve a later puzzle for the purpose of completing this review to meet release embargo. Had I adhered to my own established gameplay methodology, I would have eventually solved it myself.) After solving the color puzzle and proceeding to the next, I could suddenly activate the snow globe, which broke immediately, likely because it was intended to be used in the previous room. Finally, in what I consider to be the penultimate room after a mega plot reveal set-piece, during one of my vexatious fits triggered by suddenly and arbitrarily standing too tall to pick up objects that I had thrown to “see,” I used the regenerate key objects button just to see what would happen, and behold: my walking cane suddenly became available again.
Blind uses even less color than Perception, an aesthetic choice I found to be intentional because color is a product of the light spectrum, which Jean obviously cannot see even with echolocation. Indeed, if Jean makes too much noise, she becomes temporarily disoriented. Notwithstanding, the color puzzle is a disclosure from Tiny Bull Studios that I was not expecting. On one hand, I believe that this reveal is a plot device; on the other, it demonstrates that it would have been possible for Blind to demonstrate more technical savvy than GameBoy grayscale in a Virtual Boy world. While this game is fully 3D rather than 2.5D, I do find the objects and environments simple in their outlined renders compared to standard, non-VR games.
In the grand scheme of Blind, those are minor issues in a VR game that allows so much freedom. Though Jean is a slow walker—naturally because she is blind—I rarely felt limited in what I could do, and that is empowering even in my simulated disabled state. If I did not have respect for the blind in real life before “stepping into their shoes” and playing this game, I certainly do now. Combined with a narrative that compels me to see it through, one might say that I was Blind-sighted by the quality of this game.
*dodges a rain of tomatoes while exiting stage left*
Review code generously provided by Wonacott PR.
The Bottom Line
Blind emphatically asserts itself as a front-runner for one of the best walking sims exclusive to VR.