Boy, going in blind on games can be a real rollercoaster road sometimes. What started out as just me trying to eliminate outside bias from my reviews turned into a kind of ritual that I’ve just kept up, even though I know now that it’s pretty hard to avoid externalities given I’m, you know, in the scene. But sometimes just enough information makes it my way to pique my interest, but not enough that I know what to expect. Such is the case with Before Your Eyes, ostensibly a review bait game for me (indie, story heavy, some quirky mechanic) that managed to hit me right in the feels so hard that I was processing the events of the game for hours after it finished. Indeed whilst on the surface a game where blinking is the main mechanic sounds like a cheesy, trite idea its use in this game delivers emotional punches one after the other, making you yearn for moments you missed and try so hard to fight the urge to blink when you can’t bear to let the moment go.
You’re a different kind of soul, I can tell. Not like these other sorry ones floating along in the sea of the afterlife. No sir, something about you is special and because of that I’m going to take you to the Gatekeeper and if she sees in you what I do, well let’s just say it’s going to be great for the both of us. Of course, you can’t talk or…really do much of anything so I’ll be the one to tell your story. So I can put you in the best light we’d better start going through your memories, start to finish. Just so you know when you blink we’ll jump forward in time, maybe a day or even a lot longer, but no matter what you can’t stay there. So what do you say champ, are you ready help this old orator do his job or what?
Before Your Eyes visuals are extremely simple, heavily styled in the way that we’ve come to expect from the majority of indie developers these days. This styling is done purposefully as whilst this is an interactive audiovisual medium the focus of this game is very much on the story, sounds and atmosphere that these things evoke rather than the visuals themselves. This is not to say that the visuals don’t have some amount of flair to them, indeed the simplicity and focus on specific, necessary detail ensures that everything you see is there in aid of the story. Indeed the focus is much more centered on creating an atmosphere rather than a spectacle.
So yeah, blinking, this is a walking simulator where the main mechanic is looking around and blinking. For this you’ll need a functioning webcam which doesn’t seem like an awful limitation unless you’re like me and haven’t had a functioning one since Windows 10 came out. Still I managed with DroidCam and phone, with only a few minor hiccups every so often. The game’s plot revolves around you reliving your life, all the way from a wee babe through to your adulthood. There’s choices to make, story threads to follow and ultimately many decisions that will go into developing the story of you. However from here I have to dive into spoiler territory because really, there’s not much more to say otherwise.
MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
In my first attempt at playing through Before Your Eyes I wasn’t totally engaged, I think spending maybe 20 or so minutes before thinking “Yeah I kinda know where this is going, I’ll finish it tomorrow”. That’s mostly because I feel the game’s first quarter to half is mostly setting up the various premises that are going to be exploited in the game’s later beats. For instance there’s a lot of moments in the first parts that aren’t really explored much but are kind of left up to you to decide about what happened. Then when you get into the second half of the story that’s when things start to really hit home, and the reveal that you didn’t actually make it to adulthood starts to really hit home.
That’s when the story really started dig its claws deep into my heart and just refused to let go. There I was, expecting a standard tragedy when no, what I had seen was a mix of reality and fantasy built up by a child who was bedridden by an unknown disease that took his life long before it was due. All the moments that were setup in the original as kind of normal things you’d expect anyone to go through suddenly had so much more gravity to them. The love letter from the girl next door, the stray cat that your dad brought home, all these things just hit you so hard when know that the life you wanted to lead was so very different.
And can I say, bravo you fucking developers for making a game that sets out from the beginning to make you cry and pushes you not to blink at the same time. There were far, far too many moments when I had to cover my face so the camera wouldn’t recognize me blinking profusely as tears streamed down my face. Even better, make me close my eyes as you reveal even more devastating plot points through audio, forcing me to reflect on them even more deeply because I have no other sensory input. You did it all, you suckered me in thinking this would be a run of the mill game, you made your weird mechanic both unique and in service of the story and you told something that reduced me to a quivering ball of emotion.
I fucking love you for it.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Of course there were some issues with the blinking detection, even after a few recalibrations and moving my camera about. However the fact that the game could still have the impact on me that it did even with a few niggling issues around the edges says a lot about just how good the overall experience is.
Before Your Eyes was the emotional sucker punch I needed. The game’s opening beats will trick veteran walking simulator connoisseurs into thinking this is just another run of the mill title, but give it just enough time (shorter than most movies these days) and you’ll be treated to a story that will take you on a feels trip you won’t soon forget. I’ve played my share of games with quirky mechanics and it’s not often that I find one that is both inventive and in service of the narrative it’s portraying. Really there’s not much more I can say, you just need to give this game the time it needs to reveal itself to you and when you do, I think you’ll be all the better for it.
Before Your Eyes is available on PC right now for $14.50 total play time was approximately 2 hours with 36% of the achievements unlocked.