by Preston Dozsa
reviewed on PC
I choose to see
I wonder what life would be like if the vast majority of the human population was blind. Not blind via disease or genetics, mind you, but humanity willfully choosing to cover their eyes in order to protect themselves from the supposed evils of the world. Living in blissful ignorance as we shun progress and innovation, what would happen to those individuals who chose to see instead? And more importantly, what would it be like to be one of those individuals who chose to?
That is the premise of See No Evil, a new atmospheric puzzle game that has made me say the phrase “I’ve got to run away from the blind people!” more times than what would be appropriate in my life. You play as a nameless Seer, a person who has chosen to open their eyes in a world where covering one's eyes is the norm. One day another Seer’s body falls through your ceiling, upon which you discover his journal and begin to escape from the society that frowns upon your sight. So much so that they will come after you at every opportunity to restore your blindness forcefully.
By smell and sound
As the journal is read, line by line on each level, you must navigate through a wide swath of enemies and traps that are designed to find you based on the sounds you make and your smell. Enemies can detect you if you walk too close to them, or if you step in some smelly garbage that will allow them to detect your location. The only defense you have is your wits, which are going to be tested rigorously throughout the game, and a shout that can distract enemies from a great distance. Aside from that, good luck, because you are on your own.
The sound-based gameplay is intriguing at first glance, but by the end it is a welcome and challenging change of pace from other puzzle games. Figuring out how to move through a level while being as quiet as possible is a fun mechanic that distinguishes See No Evil from other stealth systems that rely on sight. It’s hard to walk in front of enemies without expecting them to spot you, but it quickly becomes second nature as you progress through the game.
Learning by Doing
The lack of a tutorial and the slow, repeated introduction of new mechanics is a necessary, and might I say appreciated, design choice within See No Evil. The lack of a tutorial, aside from a menu detailing the controls, forces you to learn and experiment with the game in order to progress. That room for experimentation is critical, because it fosters a sense of discovery that in turn creates a greater feeling of accomplishment upon solving a puzzle. As I’ve said in the past, this feeling of accomplishment is an absolute necessity for any puzzle game if it wishes to be successful. In the case of See No Evil, it nails that aspect perfectly.
Another benefit to the absence of a tutorial is that it forces the player to learn and uncover new mechanics throughout the game and discover what their functions are. For example, in one of the earliest levels a black fog appears that covers over three-quarters of the level, leaving me with no visibility to see if there are any switches or landmarks. I didn’t know if the fog hid something, or if it was a hazard that had to be worked around, so I tried to go through it anyway. Much to my relief, the fog dissipated as soon as I walked to a statue filled with glowbugs, allowing me to press on and see the rest of the level. I discovered what the fog’s mechanics were and how to deal with it on my own, and I was able to better remember what to do when I encountered it and how to properly exploit it. New mechanics like this are introduced in nearly every other level, creating a wonderful chain of discovery and application.
Great atmosphere, but too little explanation
As for the atmosphere, See No Evil really strove towards making the game as foreboding and dreadful as possible. The blind humans are truly creepy looking, which is made worse by the high pitched screams they make when they hear you in their vicinity (And they have very good ears). The color palette is appropriately muted, which works thematically considering the multitude of ways that the world has stalled scientifically and artistically since the self imposed blindness began. The music - which should be listened to with a pair of high quality headphones or surround sound - is ambient, with the most striking noise being the player’s footsteps in the foreground of an unnerving soundtrack. The only voice you can hear, aside from the aforementioned screams, is a unseen female narrator who repeatedly urges the player to accept the blissful state of existence that is blindness. Altogether, this has to be one of the most atmospheric puzzle games in recent memory.
And while See No Evil is ambiguous when it comes to how it teaches you its mechanics, I wish that it was more straightforward with how it presented its backstory. You gain glimpses here and there through the journal and the narrator’s voice as to how the world came to be like it is within the game, but it is never fully explained in detail. Which is a shame, because I want to know more about the world and its history because it’s a world worth exploring. I’m not asking for a straight laced narrative, but some degree of explanation and specifics would have been much appreciated.
Yet that is a relatively minor quibble when looking at the game as a whole. With an interesting premise, challenging gameplay and some amazing atmosphere, See No Evil manages to stand out from the competition.
Atmospheric, fun sound based gameplay, weird yet cool premise
Lack of backstory