The Eyes of Ara is a puzzle game. It’s also a successful Kickstarter campaign. It’s also made entirely by one man over a three year period. That man is Australian. That man is Ben Droste whom we previously interviewed.
I backed The Eyes of Ara on Kickstarter. I’ll be honest, I’m not an enormous fan of puzzle games. While I can appreciate Myst, 7th Guest and similar titles, I was always more interested in the adventure than the puzzles. So games like Kings Quest for instance which are adventure first with a dash of puzzle added suit me better. However I’m a keen supporter of Australian made games (both digital and physical) and if I can support a title for $10 or $20 I usually will.
So before I get onto review the game on it’s own merits I’d just like to tidy up a few quick points. Again, I suck at puzzle games, deduction based stuff, observation and thinking I’m pretty good with but when it comes to logic puzzles such as – ‘You have 36 turns to get the object from peg A to peg C’ my mind just blanks and I push Alt-F4. Lateral thinking? Cool. Logic puzzles? Poop. I’d also like to say just how amazed I am that one person could create such a volume of work on their own in such a short time (Although I’m sure Ben would argue it felt much longer).
While Frictional Games is also a small indie studio, it had multiple team members working on Amnesia: The Dark Descent. When you consider both games are set in (seemingly) abandoned castles and both games took three years to develop you can certainly respect the skill and effort that Ben has put into his game. Consider also that this was Ben’s first independent game and being primarily an environmental artist he needed to teach himself how to code in order to actually make the game.
Let’s take a look at the game on it’s own merits however.
The Eyes of Ara sees you take control of an unnamed protagonist working for ‘Blue Luminous Telecommunications’ who have picked up a contract to visit an abandoned castle and shut down a signal emanating from within that is disrupting TV, radio and WiFi for a 100km radius. Apparently there are complaints that people are unable to login to FriendBook. We can’t have that now can we?
Approaching the castle is achieved via a boat down stream rather than by land and after mooring and making your way up to the castle you’ll hit your first puzzle. Unlike other puzzle games that hit you in the face with a brick right at the beginning or leave you wandering aimlessly wondering what you are suppose to be doing, The Eyes of Ara eases you into things gently. The puzzles gradually increase in difficulty and while the game itself allows you to wander and explore the castle it wont let you go too far until you’ve solved enough puzzles in your current area.
While the game uses a 3D engine players move from point to point rather than wandering freely. I noticed in the forums that this was a deal breaker for some. On reflection though I can understand why the decision was made to move from point to point. I imagine the main reason is to save time. If given the opportunity to move freely you would probably spend a long time looking at things irrelevant and potentialy missing puzzle locations (But there might be something under this bed if I can just move the camera properly — 4 hours later). With a fixed point, (provided you look about thoroughly) you’ll never miss anything. Having said that, I’d love to see a ‘walkthrough mode’ upon completion of the game that would allow me to walk about the castle freely without puzzles to just soak up the visuals and ambiance of the castle.
Speaking of which, the visuals are very good. Easily on par with games like Amnesia, and close to those of Skyrim, I use both games as comparison for their castle(s). There is the odd stretched or low resolution looking texture but they are relatively few and far between. Unlike the aforementioned Amnesia the castle in The Eyes of Ara is a lot more ‘inhabited’ with plenty of furniture, curtains, rugs, tables, paintings, beds, etc. It’s densely packed and looks as if someone has actually lived in it. It’s not tile based either, I haven’t seen repetitious use of rooms or environments, each location has been hand made, no “Oh it’s this corridor again” scenario.
Audio is fine, I’ve not encountered any speech yet so it’s mostly doors opening and closing, clinks, thuds and levers or dials moving. The ‘Eyes’ fly about too making their own sort of noise as they whizz past. Music is a bit hit and miss for my tastes, it’s mostly ambient which it needs to be but a couple of pieces are a little too loud and I found myself turning down the volume while concentrating on a particular puzzle.
For the completionist there is plenty here to come back for. Scattered throughout the castle are a number of collectibles (Coins, photographs, figures, etc). Finding all of these will require a careful eye and solving a number of optional puzzles.
I found the story to be reasonably engaging too, it unfolds in the form of journals and other writings strewn about the place. The story will unfold chronologically as you move further into the game so no need to keep flipping backwards and forward to remember who is who. Many important clues are hidden in the various books and scraps of paper and you can’t take these with you in your inventory, I found keeping a pen and paper handy and taking notes to be a big help.
I’m a little over five hours into the game and from what I’ve read about 3/5 of the way through the game. I’ll admit I’ve looked up a couple of puzzles in a guide and one puzzle I had to watch a Youtube video to solve. Remember though, I’m fairly rubbish at logic puzzles. I also wanted to make some headway into the game so I could write this review, “Great game, but I couldn’t get out of the first room” wouldn’t have been the best article. I’d hazard a guess and say that the average Joe will take about 10-12 hours to finish the main storyline, variable of course on how well you solve puzzles. Finding all the hidden object will probably kill a few more hours. For me though, puzzle games are like jigsaw puzzles, you complete a portion of it and then leave it, coming back later to do a little more. I’ll load the game, spin a few dials, read a few books, hopefully solve a puzzle and then leave it for a few hours.
Refreshingly the game is (from my experiences at least and checking the forums) relatively bug free. Unlike certain AAA titles currently enjoying thousands up upset customers, The Eyes of Ara is a polished title, surprising when you consider other indie titles that often ship with bugs.
SUMMARY: Overall The Eyes of Ara is a good game. Perhaps not my kind of game, but then the fact that I’m keen to finish it, even after writing this review is testimony to it’s quality and story. If you backed the title on Kickstarter you’ll have snagged a bargain at only $10 AUD. The game is currently on Steam for $14.99 USD which equates to roughly $20 Australian. Pick it up today if you enjoy puzzle games, grab it on sale if you want to explore a castle and support Australian Indie game development.
Reviewed On: PC
Review System: Nvidia 770GTX, i7 6700k, 32GB RAM
Playtime: 5 hours
You can buy The Eyes of Ara on Steam here.