Blinking for the first time in Before Your Eyes is a genuinely magical moment. I don’t mean hitting a button to close your virtual eyes. Through the power of a webcam, Before Your Eyes tracks when you blink which allows you to progress through a wonderful narrative adventure title from GoodbyeWorld Games. It may seem like a novel gimmick on the surface, but the mechanic is used so inventively that it meaningfully enhances the already powerful storytelling that fans of narrative adventure titles would be mistaken to write it off as a shallow trick.
Players take on the role of Benjamin Brynn, a lost soul who has already passed on. At the beginning of the game, you encounter a canine ferryman who forces you to relive the events of Ben’s life, beginning at birth. This is all to impress a being called the Gatekeeper who wants an honest assessment of the kind of person Ben was.
By blinking when prompted, you’ll jump days, weeks, and sometimes years forward in Ben’s life. I’m impressed by how the game accurately recognizes eye-tracking. I never had an issue where a blink didn’t register or my camera needed recalibration. I also never felt disoriented or uncomfortable playing using eye tracking, but those factors will vary by person. On that note, it’s good that there’s an option to play the entire game using traditional mouse clicks, but I think you’d be doing yourself a major disservice in doing so.
Having played Before Your Eyes twice, once using blinks and the other using the mouse, I think the story loses a fair bit of its magic when playing with solely traditional control inputs. Closing your eyes, then opening them to a brand-new scene creates the awesome sensation that you’re reliving a life through an old-school View-Master toy. Ben’s memories are fleeting, and the mechanic sells that point perfectly. Yes, I was occasionally disappointed after I blinked involuntarily and advanced the story sooner than I would have liked. However, I didn’t mind it for long because I found that doing so lends to the game’s dreamlike quality and the sensation that even cherished memories eventually fade even – when we hope that they won’t.
Some of my favorite moments involve closing my eyes to better eavesdrop on hushed conversations or so my childhood bestie could leave a heartfelt note embarrassment-free. It’s also just more fun to “look and blink” instead of pointing and clicking on objects. Even while playing with your eyes, you still use a mouse for other actions like connecting stars in the night sky to write a cosmic message or to keep in rhythm with a piano tempo. These interactions are largely basic but are still delightful.
No matter how you play, Before Your Eyes’ story is a heartfelt tale that had me close to tears at several points. Despite its pleasantly whimsical veneer, the narrative’s themes of depression and existentialism hit hard, as does understanding life’s meaning from the perspective of a person who, despite having a great family and being born with prodigious gifts, struggles to find personal fulfillment. The writing is earnest and thoughtful, and the story takes some unexpected turns culminating in a bittersweet final message that lands harder than I was prepared for (in a good way).
A great story needs good characters, and Before Your Eyes has that in spades. Ben’s parents, a caring yet demanding mother and a lovably goofy father, are sweethearts. The same goes for Chloe, your mischievous neighbor who comes off as a genuinely endearing kid you can’t help but want to impress and hang out with. I was surprised by how attached I became to the cast in such a short time, but the superb performances and well-written dialogue do their job and ingratiated me to the characters.
Throughout the story you’ll make some choices, but I was disappointed in how little they impact the overall narrative. Don’t stress too much over whether to sneak out with your friend or get much-needed sleep for your big piano recital; this is one of those games where you’re merely choosing what colors to paint the road as opposed to creating whole new paths. Since the game only takes about an hour or so to get through, it’s worth replaying just to see a few of those scenes, but I wish my decisions had more weight given the large number of choices presented.
Before Your Eyes’ story left me reeling by the end, and it’s a memorable journey worth going out of your way to play. You rarely get a lot of first-of-a-kind experiences in games anymore, and Before Your Eyes largely nails the execution of its primary hook. It’s a concept I’d love to see further explored in a follow-up, and I couldn’t be happier that something like this exists.