The gaming landscape has changed a lot in the last fifteen years or so. With the proliferation of internet-based distribution and cheapening development costs, the Inde-game boom has given rise to more inventive ways of play than ever before.
Before Your Eyes is a superb representation of the unique strength games possess for multidimensional storytelling. For anyone still questioning the legitimacy of video games as an artistic medium, this may well be your answer.
In the blink of an eye
Before Your Eyes is a short game, but in no way does its length detract from its value. Even with just a few hours of play, it manages to convey a poignant, thought-provoking narrative surrounding the impermanence of life, delivered through a simple yet ingenious gameplay hook.
The core mechanic surrounds physical blinking. You’ll control the camera with the mouse, but advancing through the game is controlled using your computer’s webcam.
We follow Benjamin Brynn, retrospectively experiencing his life from infant to adulthood. Yanked out of the sea of souls and plopped aboard a boat bound for the gates of the afterlife, Benjamin must present his life story to a zany coyote in hopes of gaining entry.
Before Your Eyes is a subtractive piece right down to its clever subversion of core video game principles. There are no game over screens, for example. Instead, the game’s challenge focuses on the duration in which you can preserve and experience the present moment: blink, and you’re onto the next scene, jumping forward in Benjamin’s life anywhere from an hour to several years.
Each scene usually has dialogue, which is voiced charmingly and naturally by a few brilliant VAs. Once a scene comes to its end characters usually continue talking, and how much of this extra dialogue you hear will be dependent on how long you can keep your eyes open.
If there’s any semblance of player failure, it’s here: the inherent inability to experience a memory forever — one of many softly articulated messages transmitted through clever gameplay.
Other times you’ll be required to close your eyes completely as to listen in on a whispered conversation.
The game taps into the senses in a way that’s never been done before; it ensures this novel method of interactivity is as crucial in telling the story as the script is. Your eyes are a surprisingly good controller, too, with only a couple of hiccups across a given play-through.
Aside from using your eyes and ears, you’ll often be required to interact with objects in the world using the mouse. Even this is done in an appealing, sensory sort of way, using smooth gesticulations to turn a page in a book or to link stars to form letters in a night sky.
While Before Your Eyes is a mostly linear experience, you’ll also have some choices to make which alter the story in a small way. They’re implemented in a way that adds some welcome replayability, but without compromising the robustness of the main narrative thread. As subtle as the choices are they can also be pretty tough. Decisions are often timed and deal with fine nuance, forcing the player to dig deeper into their understanding of the story to make a choice.
A rare treat
Before Your Eyes encapsulates the fragility of the human experience and explores the meanings we draw from our time on earth. It tells its story with an intrinsic authenticity, tapping into life elements we can all identify with.
In utilizing many different set pieces the story fits together with modularity; each scene represents a strong memory in Benjamin’s life. The feelings of anxiety, grief, love, joy, and everything in-between denote the characters evolution as a person, which is expressed through vibrantly rendered cell-shaded graphics and affectionately designed characters.
While lip sync can sometimes feel a little disconnected, the visual direction uses light and shade to make for some stunning scenery. The music helps to tie everything together, too, blanketing the experience in delicate, thoughtful tones.
Perhaps most impressive, though, is that the game uses every asset video games have as a medium to achieve its end. It’s something that could only be achieved in the interactive space, making for an experience that transcends the common misconceptions regarding what games can be.
It’s refreshing to see such a well-executed amalgamation of writing and game design. Before Your Eyes will make you laugh, it’ll make you cry, it’ll make you think. It’s a little game with a lot to say.
Summary: Embark on an emotional first-person narrative adventure where you control the story—and affect its outcomes—with your real-life blinks. With this innovative technique you will fully immerse yourself in a world of memories, both joyous and heartbreaking, as your whole life flashes before your eyes.