It’s hard not to blink when your eyes are full of tears
There are plenty of games that resonate with us emotionally. Sometimes we might shed a tear or two — hell, maybe we’ll even need to grab some tissues. But there are only two games that have ever made me weep so uncontrollably that I had to be consoled by my husband. The first? Rakuen. The second? Before Your Eyes by GoodbyeWorld Games, available on Steam for a veritable steal at $9.99 USD.
Before Your Eyes is an short but bittersweet first-person narrative adventure where players control the pacing through blinking. That’s right — the game tracks your eye movements and progresses the story when you blink. If you have a webcam, you can take advantage of this highly underutilized mechanic; if not, there are other options for those who are a bit camera shy, so don’t let the lack of hardware stop you from experiencing this roughly hour-long journey.
It’s hard to talk about Before Your Eyes’ story too much, as this game is best experienced going in blind; one thing I can say is that the premise and mechanic are married perfectly. You are reliving key moments of your life, each one flashing before your eyes in the blink of an eye — literally. You’ll be watching one memory of a day on the beach with your parents, baby toys scattered in the sand, only to blink and fast forward to playing with baby toys in the living room or tub. During this time, you’ll overhear your parents talking about their hopes and wishes for their pride and joy, hoping you’ll grow up happy, healthy, and maybe even dare to dream that you’ll achieve greatness.
As you blink, years pass. You’ll have happy memories, sad memories, and maybe even uncover a few repressed memories. During this time, you’ll find yourself trying desperately not to blink so that you can play around with the environments as much as possible. Happier times are brightly colored, full of fun things to do like draw or paint. Unhappier times are washed out or even darker, representing a more unsettled psyche while in the moment. I felt all of this worked really well on-screen, and was easily able to feel what the developers wanted us to.
In the hour I played, I experienced three emotional acts, each one more tear-jerking than the last. I found myself thinking about my own life during this time and just how much they nailed similar experiences I’d had as a child. This is all owed to not only the fully fleshed out characters, like the doting yet overbearing mother and the golden-hearted father, but also the way they delivered their lines. It’s easy to hear their warmth or cheer, their disappointment or pain. In terms of writing, voice-acting, and delivery, Before Your Eyes has one of the most powerful narratives I’ve yet to experience.
When it comes to the actual blinking mechanic, I’m blown away by how well it works. As a glasses-wearer, I expected to run into some difficulty, but as long as you tweak the settings to perfection in the beginning (takes about five minutes), you shouldn’t run into any issues. I do think that, generally, the memories flashed a bit too quickly before my eyes; my eyes dry out pretty quickly, so not blinking was a lot harder than I thought it would be. After looking at other players’ screenshots, I realized there was quite a bit that I had missed, all because I don’t possess eyes of steel. If there was a way to delay the metronome indicator — the thing that appears to force players to jump to the next memory after blinking — I would love to see that happen. Otherwise, that’s truly my only complaint in an otherwise practically perfect game.
I refuse to spoil Before Your Eyes for you by telling you anything more about the story. All you really need to know is that it’s got an underutilized mechanic integrated perfectly into a heartbreakingly beautiful tale of a life well lived, no matter how short it was. Ludonarrative harmony has been so uniquely and tightly achieved in Before Your Eyes, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this sweep plenty of awards. This is absolutely my game of the year for 2021 thus far, and for only $9.99, there’s no reason Before Your Eyes shouldn’t be in your Steam library. Get this game.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Skybound Games; Developer: GoodbyeWorld Games; Players: 1; Released: April 8, 2021; MSRP $9.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Before Your Eyes provided by the publisher.