Showing blindness in a visual medium like gaming is tricky. Recently, however, both Beyond Eyes and Pulse have tackled topic. But where Beyond Eyes created a beautiful watercolor world of misleading sounds and unexpected environmental changes, Pulse creates something discordantly overwhelming - yet beautiful - for you to experience.
We have a ping
Pulse casts you as Eva, a young girl who lost her sight at a young age and now views the world using an ability akin to echolocation. Sending out pulses of sound, she is able to generate a transient view of the world around her, constructed of vivid colors.
The problems is, as you start playing, it is almost painful to look at. The game's first-person perspective, in conjunction with the barrage of different neon shades and the sometimes unreliable construction of the world around, make it initially impossible to tease out the useful information.
This makes the early stages far more maze-like than perhaps was intended. Walking up a slope towards what seems like a clear path forward, only to hit a wall that Eva’s pulse is unable to see from a distance, becomes a frustrating diversion as your eyes struggle to become accustomed to the constantly changing barrage of information.
Alone in the dark
Then, as you get used to the visual cacophony, it starts to make sense. The tale explains how your doomed, ancient world is covered in darkness – making Eva the only one capable of finding her way. And you discover that, while it is a struggle to understand the constant waves of information that the pulses bring back, they reveal things sight alone could not.
You become easily able to spot the tiny forest spirits that are used to solve Pulse's simple puzzles. Less passively, your new senses also allow you to see growling wolves as they patrol - a skill that regularly saved me from an untimely end.
Pulse is focused on exploration but, on the occasions that it forces you to use its jumps or stealth, Eva’s slightly sluggish movement can grow frustrating as you struggle to find the right route. Fortunately, once you learn how to see as the young hero, the few visual tricks that lead your eye towards your destination – such as the red hanging fabrics – alleviate many of these issues.
Give it time and you'll be blind sided
Pulse does not reproduce blindness, but it does force you to consider the fact that you take sight for granted and make you adapt to new sensory inputs. The game’s exploration – and willingness to let you find your own path – also gives the time you need to master its unique visuals. All of which elevate its gentle mix of discovery and horror gameplay to something strangely engrossing.