Ultra-Indie Spotlight Sunday: Low Graphics And Big Scares In Their Eyes

You wake up in a spooky dark wood, the wind blows through the trees and a cow-like creature is grazing in the distance. You don’t know what’s going on but judging by the people you find out here, there’s something amiss. A town just across the river has had some strange things going on, causing people to leave en masse and few to leave with their lives. These are the terrible mysteries you will encounter in… Their Eyes

Conceptual Meta-Wank:

Browsing through AAA or even the top indie horror games, one might assume that 3D and relatively good graphics are necessary for a good spook or scare. One might think that PSX style games are the the most basic visuals you can get before the human brain ceases to understand what it is looking at. Obviously, that’s not true. And Their Eyes by developer Black_and_Noir is here to show us just how powerful basic graphics can be. 

Their Eyes is a top-down game with flat graphics and rudimentary sprites. The character you play as does not have arms and is 50% head. And despite that, Their Eyes has excellent survival horror gameplay. The combat is weighty and satisfying, with melee and firearm fighting that feels as good as something in a Resident Evil game. And even without 6.02 x 10^23 polygons per object, the visuals are tremendous and the atmosphere in Their Eyes will fill you with dread. 

Non-Wanky Game Recap:

Most of Their Eyes is about exploring this strange little slice of the world in which you awaken. The character seems as dumbfounded as you are as you walk through the tall grass and find yourself in new places. After a bit of talking and exploring you eventually get a long rifle to fend off any disagreeable creatures you encounter. And believe you me, there are many disagreeable creatures about. 

What Works:

There’s a lot about Their Eyes that comes across great. The visual design is phenomenal, even with the flat sprites.The game itself is surprisingly detailed, with intricate level design and exploration. And of course, the story is unsettling throughout.

What makes Their Eyes so haunting is how they use the lack of graphics to enhance their experience. The flat sprites of the grass obfuscate incoming enemies, exposing their movements in a way only sub-Playstation graphics can. A flat black background makes the areas with color truly pop, like the water, while the thin contours of the trees look especially foreboding. It’s clear that by focusing 

What Doesn’t:

There’s not much to find here that doesn’t work. Their Eyes is a fantastic game. Nitpicking the game, there are a few areas where more effort could have been made. Some of the mechanics seemed to be introduced and not come back, such as tree branches that could ensnare you and trap you in place. Having that return could have been cool. Certainly none of this is gamebreaking, or even distracting from the experience. 

How To Fix It:

Of course, they could add in all that stuff I said in the previous paragraph. But were I to suggest any improvements in relationship to this article’s thesis, I would say there is room for improvement in using less graphics to do more. Enemies are black with a white outline, and there’s a black outline. In the style of Shot in the Dark, I might suggest removing the white outline and letting the enemies camouflage with the darkness. So too could you add some non-enemy creepies that pop out of the darkness. Have some red eyes poke out from the black abyss once in a while. There’s plenty of fun stuff that could be done here.

Wanky Musings:

Obviously Their Eyes is not the first horror game to look like Dwarf Fortress. All kinds of great indie horror titles have exceedingly low effort graphics, and I mean that in a good way. It doesn’t take photorealism to make someone scared, in fact, just the opposite. Their Eyes is a project that did not need the same amount of blood and sweat put into it that a AAA title does. And yet, it draws from us the same amount of terror.

You can download Their Eyes on itch.io by clicking here.