Review by Halron2

Reviewed: 08/19/02 | Updated: 05/19/03

Man, I'm getting claustrophobic here...

As a rule, I generally only write reviews about games I’ve finished without using any cheats. However, people say every rule should have an exception, so here is mine: Eye of the Beholder. I got this game back in about 1992 and, to this day, I haven’t been able to beat it. However, I think I’ve spent enough time in my life playing it and being frustrated with it to write a decent review. Anyway, I probably will never play this game again, so I might as well write this ‘almost complete’ review instead of not writing anything. So, ok, onto the game.

As a story, Eye of the Beholder isn’t really exciting. A group of heroes, that you create yourself and control through the game, is hired by the rulers of a city to investigate an underground passage under the place that is crawling with monsters. As soon as your characters walk in, surprise, there’s no way out. Until the end of the game, that is. Well, at least, I guess they manage to walk out of there in the end. During the adventure, you will find not only monsters, but treasures, labyrinths, ancient relics and even a dwarf community in these tunnels. It appears an evil wizard is occupying the underground with nasty intents. Well, as I said, it’s pretty much a cliché story. Apart from that, the characters have nothing to do with the plot, since the player creates the party he wants to use.

From the description above, it’s easy to see that in Eye of the Beholder there’s no backgrounds except for caves, dungeons and the like. Even if there is a little bit of variation, it gets tiring after a while and most areas are recognizable by their color only. In a sense, the claustrophobic feel of the game does add to the whole mood and can be considered an incentive for the players to get the hell out of this place. However, it can also be an incentive just to get the hell away from this game.

In terms of gameplay, Eye of the Beholder is quite unique and that’s what makes the game fun. In the game, there’s only one view and that’s first person perspective. Combat is done in real time, which means you navigate through the dungeons with the keyboard and use weapons and spells with the mouse. After acting, the character becomes unavailable for a short time, after which he can attack/cast/use items again. It’s really easy to sort out when you’re just fighting a giant spider, but try going against a legion of rampaging dwarves to see what happens. Apart from their combat use, spells play a crucial part in the game, so much that it would be suicide to create a party lacking a cleric or a mage.

Navigation in this game can be a real pain. Actually, it’s pretty much insane. There’s absolutely no map (unless you draw one yourself) and the places are confusing and the mazes endless. You can fall down holes, step on teleporting panels, step on panels that turn you around and so on, so attention must be paid to every little detail. Also, the number of illusionary walls in this game is obscene. I can’t really believe that I could navigate as well as I did and actually reach the point I did in this game. Apart from the navigation problems, there’s the puzzles, for the most part really challenging. This is a game where every single piece of paper and dialogue you find matters, mainly because there’s so little of them. Pay a lot of attention to what you read and you might get far.

The basic engine of this game is the AD&D role-playing system, so people familiarized with it will have a much easier time playing this. The spells are the same, the classes and races the same, the monsters the same. Some knowledge of the system really helps in so many aspects, like creating a balanced party, fighting the monsters and acquiring abilities. The game tends to be more realistic than most RPGs you will see today: for example, the characters must eat food on a regular basis (there’s a kind of ‘hunger meter’), it’s not so easy to revive fallen characters and so on. All these little details add a lot of challenge to the game and it’s obvious the difficulty is one of the most attractive aspects of the game.

In terms of graphics, Eye of the Beholder isn’t anything exceptional. Actually, by today’s standards, it would mostly be considered ugly. The backgrounds are repetitive (palette swap – argh!), monsters aren’t that well done, will generic designs – although they do have animations for attacks and movement – and the few NPCs are really unimpressive. I used to have a lot of fun with this game’s graphics, anyway, specially because of a good deal of detail. Every single item in the game has an icon for it (you place them in slots in the backpack or on body parts, which corresponds to equipping them), a good deal of different faces for each different character race and class and so on. It wasn’t the most beautiful thing I had seen, but it was amusing and a good addition to the game. Basically, what needed a lot of work were the designs, something that was changed in the sequels.

Anyway, in a general way, Eye of the Beholder isn’t the best game in history, but it was just good enough to please an AD&D fanatic like I was in those days. A lot of things needed some work, but most of these things were developed further in the sequel, which was a vast improvement over the original. But the innovative, unique gameplay and the real challenge, not only in combat, but also in exploring were positive factors that added a lot to the game. Just the fact that endless leveling up wouldn’t make the game any easier (even if there was a maximum level you could reach) is already deserving of praise. It could be a very frustrating experience, specially because there weren’t FAQs and walkthroughs back then, but every new discovery would make the game exciting and fun again. The only really bad thing about this game is that I was never able to finish it.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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