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Ian's Eyes

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SOEDESCO
Developer: Sindie Games
Release Date: Sept. 1, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'Ian's Eyes'

by Brian Dumlao on Sept. 29, 2016 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Ian's Eyes is a horror/puzzle game where you, as a guide dog, try to lead your blind owner through school which becomes a huge and horrifying challenge when his schoolmates were turned into zombies!

Schools have previously been used as the backdrop in horror games, like Corpse Party, Obscure and White Day. In those cases, it was always high school, and the protagonists were always teenagers. There really hasn't been a horror game where the protagonist was younger or handicapped. That changes with Ian's Eyes, and while the concept is solid, the game is anything but.

You play the role of North, a guide dog for the blind child, Ian. On your first day at a new school in a quiet northern town, the school is celebrating a major milestone. To mark the occasion, the principal dug up an old time capsule and showed off a few slides of what the school looked like back then. Unfortunately, the slideshow was just enough to turn all of the viewers into zombies. Being blind, Ian is unaffected, but he could sense that something was amiss. Being the trusty canine you are, you help Ian so the both of you can escape the school before things get worse.

It doesn't take long before you notice the first flaw with the game in the option menus. You can easily tell what you're highlighting, but there's nothing to indicate whether you've confirmed a choice. That part is important if you choose to play parts of the game in Spanish or if you change the control scheme from the classic Resident Evil style to the more modern one. Speaking of controls, the prompts you're first given in the opening tutorial sections are a bit mixed-up, as the button prompts match the colors on the Xbox 360/Xbox One controller but use PlayStation symbols. That wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the fact that the prompts are inverted. If you're using a DualShock 3 or 4, you're going to be completely thrown off by the upside-down placement.

Once you come to grips with your preferred control scheme, the mechanics begin to differentiate themselves in interesting ways. When attached to Ian, North performs the most basic duties of being a guide dog. Wherever you move, Ian goes along with you, and Ian is the only one who can open doors. Once you detach from Ian, you gain more mobility. You can sneak or go on a full run, things you couldn't do with Ian in tow. You can also bark, which becomes instrumental in leading the zombies toward you and away from Ian, though you'll soon discover that it can backfire since a loud bark actually hurts Ian as well.

That's probably the first important lesson you'll learn in the title. Despite being your master, Ian is terrible at making decisions, as everything he says will cause you to die or get him hurt more. The only time you'll bother listening to him is when someone else tells you to do something and he repeats it, giving you some confidence that it's the right thing to do. It's not exactly the best way to convey the relationship between the two.

While Ian's Eyes features a few puzzles here and there, most of your time in the game is spent trying to distract the zombies so both you and Ian can safely reach the next area. Most of the zombies are quite harmless, as they simply act as barriers between areas. The mobile zombies, on the other hand, can kill either North or Ian with just one touch. Since you can't attack the zombies, your best bet is to distract them enough so they get confused and give you and Ian a clear path.

Though the idea is great, the execution is badly handled. Part of that comes from the use of cinematic angles that hide zombies that are close to the transition point. They're easier to avoid if you're using the more modern controls than the classic tank style, but they're annoying nonetheless. The other flaw is that they're completely unpredictable. You never quite know how close you can walk before they spot you. You don't know how far they'll chase you, and you don't know when they'll get confused. You can try and experiment with this, but since each zombie acts differently from one another, you might simply attribute their behavior to random chance.

The issue of constant deaths is really the game's biggest failing. It tries to be cute about the whole thing by giving you two different counters that tally up how many times you've died, but it seems superfluous since they serve the same function. However, the general game design leaves too much to chance, with no set rules for the world to follow. It does a good job of saving often, so you don't have to travel far to reach the spot where you died, but the dependence on randomness makes all of the deaths feel unfair. Instead of death being used as an impetus to press forward, it becomes too much of a detriment, and many players will simply quit out of frustration instead of trying to advance in a game with an unsatisfying ending after all you had to go through.

If there's one thing the graphics have going for it, it's style. One look at the characters, and you'll see a hybrid of early Tim Burton and Jhonen Vasquez, as the characters are fairly disproportionate with large dead eyes and head, decently sized bodies, and very short limbs. The school looks plain at first, but the peculiar posters shown before the outbreak warn you of what's ahead, and the school becomes a little more unsettling. Heavy shadow use, a few splatters here and there, and disheveled environments go very far in providing the game with the kind of horror that isn't too unsettling for younger players but remains frightening nonetheless.

Unfortunately, that style is squandered by a few things that make it look cheap. Meet up with your principal for the first time, and you'll notice that his mouth never moves. The same goes for anyone else you encounter, a sharp contrast to the cut scenes where mouths and eyes are more animated, even if the lip-synching doesn't match exactly. Cut scene movement also looks pretty stiff, as characters slide more than they walk. The whole thing looks too compressed, and in the end, the game in this category is a mess.

As bad as the graphical presentation may be, the audio is worse. The music is fine, as it gives off a horror vibe. It doesn't play often, as the game knows when to use silence to its advantage, but you'll appreciate its appearance. The idea of using silence is overdone, though, as the game fails to play most sound effects. Getting caught, opening doors, and your footsteps when not sneaking around are staples of the horror genre, but somehow, the developers didn't feel they were that important. More attention was instead spent on the dialogue, which was not only terrible but delivered rather poorly.

The dialogue switches between basic and wordy, as the game often takes the time to explain the same thing several different ways in case you didn't understand it. The acting is dreadful, as it seemed like no one understood the situation. Even if you ignore the fact that this may not be their native language, the emotions given by some characters during a few scenes are rather disjointed, as they can go from boring one minute to angry the next for no discernable reason. Worse yet is Ian, who not only sounds older than he should but is constantly whiny. You're sometimes glad when he dies and even more grateful that he says nothing after dying several times over.

The premise for Ian's Eyes has potential. If done correctly, a horror game that revolves around a glorified escort mission can be a tense and entertaining experience. However, there's nothing here that can be considered well done, as the game simply strives to emulate all of the bad parts of the old survival-horror games without the good parts with that came with it. Even if you're a die-hard survival-horror fan, there's very little that's worth checking out in Ian's Eyes.

Score: 3.5/10

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