See No Evil is a ridiculously engaging, unconventional sound-based puzzler developed by a small team at Noetic Games that blends original and challenging gameplay with a thought-provoking premise. It just dropped on Steam for $15 after a successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year, and sports a surprising amount of polish.
Players are abruptly dropped into a discomforting alternate reality where humanity has sworn off sight and progress in favor of comfort and consistency. Voluntarily shutting their eyes, ostensibly for generations, the protagonist opens his when a body crashes through the roof. Belonging to another Seer, as the dissidents are known, the late individual’s journal is read, line by line, as players advance through the initial set of levels. He must use his newly-acquired sight to escape the dystopian realm.
Choosing to avoid an overt tutorial level or set of levels, See No Evil gradually introduces more and more mechanics and enemy types as the game progresses. Each new level and obstacle is unforgiving, requiring planning and deliberate action, as rushing through a level or past an enemy will net players an ear-piercing shriek and a ticket back to the beginning of the level. Unsurprisingly, enemies don’t take kindly to those who oppose the status quo.
Enemies use different mechanics to detect the player: some are able to detect the protagonist by the sound of his footsteps, some by the smell of refuse trekked through and still more by echolocation. Levels are occasionally shrouded in a looming darkness, obfuscating objectives and opponents alike, requiring the awakening of long-asleep glow bugs before players can even hope to advance.
Choosing not to overtly explain the rationale behind humanity’s self-imposed blindness, the game dedicates itself to this idea in novel and interesting ways. The sound- and smell-based mechanics are potent in conveying the message and impose urgency and strategy to a normally relaxing genre.
The sound-based gameplay is refreshing and engaging. Often mixing multiple puzzle elements and occasionally requiring quick reflexes and good timing, each level makes for an enjoyable and challenging experience. There’s a great amount of satisfaction in each “A-ha!” moment which drives the player through to the next stage.
The game strays from the 2D indie puzzler norm (see Another Perspective, Braid), opting to sacrifice platforming elements and use an isometric perspective. Aesthetically, it resembles a muted Bastion, which is fitting given the bleakness of the reality the Seer finds himself in. Each environment is lovingly detailed, with long-unread pages flitting about the ground.
With a void as the backdrop of each level and the muted tones, the game’s mood and atmosphere are made tangible. The idea that an individual like the Seer is an outsider within his society, that he is effectively alone and surrounded by hostility is felt overtly through the presence of enemies but also implicitly with these design decisions.
Ambient, ethereal music and sound effects follow the protagonist and heavily immerse the player. A haunting female voice dubs the protagonist “Little Footsteps” and encourages him to turn back: “The world seems darker with your eyes open,” she coos. “Ignorance is bliss. Keep your eyes closed, it’s easier that way.” As players advance, the score changes to fit the various environments. The soundtrack is top-notch, and every bit as lovingly crafted as the difficult puzzles and the game’s visuals.
The music helps to heighten the sense of oddity and isolation, with its far-off electronic tones and sweeping soundscapes, but follows the pace of the game and heightens hopefulness or adds anxiety when appropriate. Admittedly, it can seem a bit inappropriately driving at times, but it is understandable given the protagonist’s goal to escape. The unseen voice is the only direct communication towards the Seer, and it isn’t particularly friendly. In See No Evil, you are truly alone, and each audio and visual design decision reflects that.
A small gripe regarding See No Evil is that the plot could have been substantially more fleshed out. It is a very interesting premise with a clear, fable-like moral: open your eyes to the uncomfortable truths, and learn to roll with them instead of trying to settle for what is easy or comfortable.
More detail, more back-story would have taken the intriguing experience to another level. Locations and characters are alluded to, but only revealed in the slightest, which can be a little frustrating and immersion-breaking.
Yesterday, the game was updated to add cloud support, achievements, and a continue button. A Mac release is planned and possibly completed, but licensing issues are keeping the team from releasing it just yet. A hilarious apology, where a programmer explains the situation while suffering through habañero peppers, is available on the team’s YouTube.
Beyond the potential for a more fleshed-out story, See No Evil is a polished package. The levels are tough, but beatable. The atmosphere is appropriate to the degree of progression and hits all the right notes when it comes to heightening the Seer’s alienating uniqueness. The enemies actually cause anxiety and create tension instead of being static hindrances and even the most innocuous of puzzles require unorthodox thinking to solve. See No Evil is a rewarding and enjoyable game to play, hear and see.