With the potential to be the first real-time VR experience that makes you cry, Notes on Blindness is more than deserving of its praise.
Expectations can be dangerous things, especially in games. It’s why I was initially wary of stepping into this world; after all, it promised something very special indeed. Something that could have been a complete disaster if not done properly. Fortunately, it lived up to my expectations and then some – which made me sad as I can no longer use this as a benchmark for future experiences.
Offering players the chance to experience blindness first-hand via sound, Notes on Blindness is an exploration (though not terribly interactive), a narrative adventure that uses this unique gameplay feature to great effect. Whilst it borders on pretentious at times, especially in its lofty philosophical musings, I couldn’t help but be sucked into the tale unfolding before me; with themes of friendship and loss coming together with impressive emotional depth.
Moving around (I use the term ‘moving’ very loosely) the game world is done by grabbing hold of small orange orbs dotted around each area you can explore. By pulling your controller’s trigger button down whilst holding onto one of these orbs, a man’s voice – who could easily be talking about anything from quantum physics uncertainty principle to the state of the country’s economy – will play. This voice changes depending on where you are, with some areas allowing you to only listen in as he talks about his life, whilst others offer up more of an insight into his thoughts. It’s riveting stuff, especially when presented in such a matter-of-fact way that allows it to fit perfectly into the world around you.
Visuals are simplistic yet pleasant enough, offering little more than stylised models against pre-rendered backgrounds that transition from white noise to static before your very eyes. It serves its purpose well, however; letting players focus their attention on what they’re hearing rather than being distracted by visuals of any kind. A clever decision made all the more impressive when considering that this is a VR experience built from the ground up for a mobile headset.
With only around half an hour’s worth of content, Notes on Blindness had me hooked throughout its duration; though I could easily have stayed in there for hours more. On one hand, it feels way too short and leaves you wanting more, but on the other, it manages to accomplish so much in such little time that even if it were double or triple its current length, we’d still be looking at something relatively short. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and instead chooses to focus all of its efforts on telling a concise story that feels personal and engaging – something some traditional games struggle with these days.
For many developers Notes on Blindness will be used as a lesson in how to do VR right. Not only is it a model of what can be done on Quest with no compromises, but it’s also one of the best examples I’ve seen so far of how to present narrative-based experiences using VR mechanics. Whilst Notes on Blindness does have its flaws, there are few that can match its impact, meaning that even if you don’t have access to the game just yet, you should still go and check out their free VR experience Play All Senses on Steam so you’ll at least know what all the fuss is about.
I’m not saying it’s worth buying a Quest for – though I am definitely impressed enough by this experience to consider doing so! – but if you have one already Notes on Blindness should be your next stop. It’s a truly unique and memorable experience that will stay with me long after I’ve finished writing up this review, and one that shouldn’t be missed by anyone wanting to see what the future of VR has in store for us.
Final Score: 8/10 – Great (Note: All reviews are done on a scale of 1-10)