Note: The PC/Mac port has been reviewed separately with a different score.
It’s funny how some of the most important aspects of life are the ones we most often take for granted. Things like breathable air, clean water, and opposable thumbs are often unappreciated despite—or maybe because of—how much we use and rely on them. And if you’re fortunate enough to have all five of your god-given senses operating, I’m willing to bet you take those for granted from time to time too. But when Aaron Rasmussen suffered a few days of blindness after a chemistry accident, he instantly stopped having that luxury. Certainly the experience stuck with him long enough to inspire the game BlindSide, a unique adventure which removes visuals entirely and forces players to rely purely on what they can hear.
This style of gameplay almost begs for a horror setting. After all, isn’t the scariest monster the one you can’t see; the one whose appearance is the worst thing you can possibly imagine while you shudder in the dark? The scares here are few in number, and are hampered now and then by the dialogue’s somewhat inconsistent tone, but when they work they work well. The end result isn’t perfect, but considering it’s the first offering of an almost completely original idea, this is easily forgiven. BlindSide is an experience you currently won’t find anywhere else.
The game casts you in the role of Case, an assistant professor who is woken up by his girlfriend Dawn when she becomes concerned by a power outage. After unsuccessfully trying both a flashlight and matches, Case realizes the problem is far more unsettling than a simple power loss. Stepping briefly into his building’s hallway, he finds a terrified neighbor who has also been struck blind. This already horrific situation is made considerably worse when a growling creature attacks the unsuspecting neighbor, prompting Case to flee back to his girlfriend and his fire escape. Upon discovering that cell phones don’t work, the two form a plan to head across the street to use the landline in Case’s office. Naturally the presence of dangerous monsters and the inability to see make this simple task far more challenging.
While most people would find their way around a dark room with tentative steps and groping hands, that’s obviously not an option for the players controlling Chase. Basically you charge him forward until he hits something, at which point he informs you what it is he’s run into, often with a grunt of pain. Not having any visuals, sounds obviously play a key part in BlindSide’s gameplay. Each room or environment has a variety of sounds that get louder or softer as you move Case towards or away from them. These noises are critical to orienting Case, as the direction they're coming from relates to where Case is facing. Face a wall clock, for example, and you’ll hear it out of both speakers or headphones. Turn 90 degrees to the right and you’ll only hear it on your left. Between this and Case’s descriptions of where he remembers things being in your current location, navigating blind is surprisingly manageable. One of the best ideas is the ability to slide along certain items and most walls. Some sound effects only play when you’re moving forward while sliding along a surface, making it much easier to do things like hug walls to locate doors and move along the edges of a room.
It’s hard to really categorize BlindSide's gameplay because these navigational challenges represent pretty much the sole means of interaction. There isn’t any problem solving and there aren’t really any puzzles. Instead, the entire game acts like a giant environmental audio maze. Essentially Case tells you what your next objective is, like a certain door or a fountain or a book of matches, and you make your way blindly towards it, hoping not to be attacked by monsters along the way. In the segments where these monsters do appear, you have a certain time limit to make it to the next objective without being eaten. Fortunately, the game saves checkpoints before any of the really hairy situations, so dying rarely sets you back more than a couple of minutes.
With such a unique premise, the big question is: does it work? The answer is a resounding yes. That’s not to say it’s flawless; there were a couple of times I got hung up a little on a piece of the scenery and had to back up before reorienting myself. There was another section where I was trying to time crossing the street without getting hit by some sort of train, and the audio cues were fairly unclear on how close I was to where the train passed. But after I got used to the basic controls, I found myself navigating through hallways and rooms with relative ease. This is impressive, since it’s easy to imagine just how frustrating BlindSide could be if the controls weren’t up to the task.Continued on the next page...