The Eyes of Ara is a first person, point & click adventure that sends you to explore every loose brick and every secret passageway in an ancient Scottish castle. Tasked with disabling a signal broadcasting from within, you are the only person who is brave enough to take the job. Local contractors would rather deal with their unstable WiFi and other disrupted communications than go fix the problem. That would require them to enter the place, and the castle has a bit of an unsavory reputation in the town. What lies inside is more hype than reality, but an unexpected surprise nevertheless. In an interesting juxtaposition of ancient architecture, futuristic technology, and astrological mythology, The Eyes of Ara delivers a madding (the good kind) puzzle experience in a gorgeous location.
The story unfolds from journal entries peppered throughout the castle, written by multiple family members. The main narrative begins in 1995, when the owner’s sister and her two children come to live with him. He wasn’t too happy about this – as their constant presence and noise would disturb his work – but they had fallen on hard times. Reluctantly, he agreed to let them move in. His sister’s constant harping about feeling “spirits” in the home and the son’s propensity to get into things he shouldn’t irked him to the extreme, but as he got used to not living alone anymore, his emotions thawed. He began to enjoy having them around.
Clementine, the uncle’s favorite of the two children, was interested in some of the paranormal activity in the castle, specifically the balls of blue light that follow you around. Her uncle explained that they were robots and part of the experiment he was working on. That made Clementine even more curious about the castle. Eventually, however, the balls of blue light started to make her mother and her brother nervous. Her mother came to the conclusion that the floating balls were devices that trapped evil souls in their “cold, mechanical shells” and, eight months after moving in, she left with her children against Clementine’s and the uncle’s wishes. For the next nine years, the uncle continued his experiments, but disappeared on the night he was due to complete them.
And you pick up where he left off.
Mechanically, there are a variety of puzzles. Some are a one-time deal, but most reoccur throughout the game with some minor changes in scenario or placement. The mural puzzles in the mother’s bedroom and the uncle’s bedroom are the most time-consuming to solve – so time consuming that the developers added in the option to unlock the murals with a code in their most recent patch. I was unable to locate the code, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way, which wasn’t too terrible. The concept to solving the mural puzzles is not difficult, but it takes a lot of rotating to put everything back in its right place; the venn diagram mural puzzle is the worst offender.
That’s how nearly all of the puzzles are in The Eyes of Ara: not too hard, not too easy, but just right. When one sways in one direction of difficulty, there is another that swings the other way to balance the experience out. Everything is a progression, so there are some things you will need to solve in a particular order to move on to the next chapter. What’s great about the puzzles is that most of the time the solution is either in the same room as you, or in the room next door, which can either be ridiculously easy or stupid hard, depending on your powers of observation.
What the game isn’t, however, is something that you can breeze through; while it employs many common puzzle mechanics, it forces you to look for the answer and often calls back to a strange codex you found earlier in the game many times. Not all solutions are completely intuitive, but the game doesn’t mislead you. All interactive objects are there for a reason (aside from a few armories and cabinets; they don’t always contain important items). There is a solution to either open, unlock, push, turn, flip, or activate them, and they sometimes also drive the narrative of the past into the present. There are maybe two clues to puzzles that make their solution painfully obvious, but the game doesn’t hold your hand; it sits back and tells you if you are getting hot or cold. Keep a notebook and a pen handy at all times – you’ll need it.
Stylistically, there is nothing scary or haunting about the castle. It’s old and, yes, there are these weird blue things that follow you around everywhere, but the setting is actually an inviting place. The further up into the castle you go, the more fascinating and unique things you’ll find. One of the most gorgeous rooms is the planetary projection room featuring nine mythological murals for each planet and their symbol, and (of course) the planets themselves. The focus on planets and star constellations was heavy, but not cheesy or overbearing; by understanding that many of the puzzles’ answers are rooted in that kind of mythology, you come to understand the uncle and what drives him as a character, even though you never meet him.
100 Stones Interactive delivered a well-rounded and thoroughly planned puzzled experience for their debut title. If you are looking for a challenging and immersive experience that provides several hours of gameplay, The Eyes of Ara is your game. It’s one of the few games that makes earning all of the Steam achievements worth it.
The Eyes of Ara was reviewed on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Developer: 100 Stones Interactive | Publisher: 100 Stones Interactive | Genre: Indie, Adventure, Puzzle, Point &Click | Platform: PC | PEGI/ESRB: N/A | Release Date: July 19, 2016