Before Your Eyes is a game that got a lot of heads turning, even before its release for its unusual mechanics. In Before Your Eyes, players control the story and gameplay entirely with their eyes. How? Eye tracing via a webcam. It’s something the team at GoodbyeWorld Games had already had great success with in their student project Close Your, which used the same unique mechanics to tell a similar story–but the team wanted to explore further, and after a successful Kickstarter and an Independent Games Festival award, went on to create Before Your Eyes.
In Before Your Eyes, you’ll find yourself on a junky boat with a one-eared wolf and a pack of angry seagulls. Before long, you’ll learn that you’re a soul without a body he’s chosen to take to the Gatekeeper to be judged, and that he will be acting as your orator, telling the story of your life, to see if you prove worthy of entering the beautiful city beyond. There’s just one problem–you don’t remember anything.
Then, you get sent back. All the way back. Most of Before Your Eyes is the story of your life, beginning as a baby on the beach with your mother. Progression through the story happens whenever you blink.
This blinking mechanic is beautifully integrated. Before you actually start Before Your Eyes, you’ll have calibrated your webcam and the game to recognize your blinks a few different ways to ensure eye tracking is working properly, and when you’re on the boat, you’ll learn a few of the different ways you’ll interact using your eyes. In some cases, you’ll hover over an eye symbol with your mouse and then blink, and at other times, when a metronome appears, you’ll simply blink and it will change things. Still other times, you’ll blink to draw pictures or write notes. And even though your wolf friend tells you there’s complications with this blinking magic, in the real world, it’s extremely smoothly integrated and I didn’t have to recalibrate during the entire game even once.
The reason why it’s complicated in game though, is this: Whenever there’s a metronome located at the bottom of the screen and you blink, you blink forward in time. The catch is, you have no idea how far you’ll travel in time. It could be a few minutes, but it could also be years.
And so, you begin your journeys. You find out your name is Ben, and you’ve got a composer/pianist mom and a father who’s a professor of maritime archaeology. They love you very much and expect big things from you. Each time you blink you get snippets of your life, from the toy piano passed on through generations to the very realistic relationship between your mom and dad, sometimes strained by finances, and sometimes tested simply by differences in parenting styles. I love the realness of Before Your Eyes relationships. It’s a subtle and steady love story, for your parents and the three of you as a family. The writing in Before Your Eyes is grounded, sweet, silly and pitch perfect.
As you get older, things get more complicated. Early on it’s discovered you have a lot of musical talent, and your relationship with your mom becomes a little bit rocky at times because of her wish to see you succeed in the things she dreamed about, but there’s school, and, a girl, and video games. There are a lot of choices to make, and it’s not always clear what you’re supposed to do. At some point, you’re struck down by a pretty serious illness, and it throws your life in disarray, with school and friends further from you than you’d like. This is just the story to about the midpoint, and to talk more about it would be to ruin a beautiful experience.
Before Your Eyes is so much more than just the intrigue and innovation behind the blinking mechanic, but far from a gimmick, the blinking serves as such an interesting, immersive way to be told a story. There’s moments you’ll want to blink through as quickly as possible, and other times where you’re either required to try not to blink or just simply don’t want to blink so you can find out more or stay in a particularly lovely moment.
Everything about Before Your Eyes compliments everything else. The writing is impeccable, with realistic characters, voiced masterfully and presented artistically in a dreamy pastel palette full of expressive characters and gorgeous backdrops. So many objects in each scene have importance, and symbolism is impactful and not trite. And the blinking plays in perfectly, from times when you’ll have to close your eyes to be able to hear parents in the other room, to times when you can’t turn away from something you really don’t want to see, or one particularly impactful moment for me when your illness reaches a crescendo and you find you don’t have the strength to get your meds, water, and lunch the way you’d then been doing for a while. It’s so expressive in such a poignant way, and I was fully immersed every single moment.
Before Your Eyes is relatively brief as a game, and can (and probably will) be played in a session or two, but it is like a good book you just can’t put down. There are so many wonderful moments in the story that almost anyone can relate to, and you get so attached to the story and characters that by the end, well–forget blinking, I dare you not to cry.
The team at GoodbyeWorld Games could’ve rested on having a neat mechanic–and trust me, it feels a little like magic the first time you blink your way from scene to scene without touching a controller or keyboard, but they didn’t. Instead, they made a masterpiece, by perfectly pairing mechanics and themes to create a story about the brevity and unpredictable nature of life and in fact, every moment, with real characters and real love that make Before Your Eyes unforgettable.
Before Your Eyes released today on Steam.
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