Do you believe innovation is still the driving force in the gaming industry? I do not. Considering the latest and upcoming AAA games, I don’t think top dogs are going to push video games in any exciting new directions in the foreseeable future, despite the constant rise of computing powerof our consoles and PCs. Fortunately, there are still creative independent developers, such as GoodbyeWorld Games.
What’s a walking sim with no walking?
- Outstanding, touching story;
- Superb voice-acting and dialogue;
- Music greatly complements the story;
- Blinking mechanics is innovative and it deepens the immersion…
- …but might also distract you and sometimes calibrating it is tough;
- The game is very short;
- Minor technical hiccups.
If you give Before Your Eyes just one glimpse of an eye, you might think it’s another “walking sim.” Wrong! Yes, it does use first-person perspective, but, there’s no walking whatsoever (except for three or four short stages where the protagonist does it automatically). That’s because the only thing you control in the game are… the eyes. And this is where the innovation comes in.
Before Your Eyes has an unusual system requirement: a webcam. Well, actually it’s not required, you can play the entire game using just mouse – but without a webcam, you’ll miss an important part of the experience. The reason for that is simple: the core gameplay mechanics of the game is… blinking.
A matter of life and death
There’s no walking in Before Your Eyes since the protagonist, Benjamin Brynn, has no legs. Actually, he has nothing except eyes. That’s because he’s dead. We meet him as a soul floating in, well, not Styx, but the devs were obviously inspired by the ancient final frontier of the living. We also have a Charon – here known simply as the Ferryman, who catches Ben’s soul. He intends to introduce him to the mighty Gatekeeper, who may grant him passage to the paradise. But first, the Ferryman has to “interrogate” the protagonist and learn if he had a truly great life.
So we delve into Benjamin’s memories, from childhood up to his death. And it could sound almost boring if Ben wasn’t such an extraordinary character, and if the creators didn’t present his story in such a creative and touching manner. The keynote of Before Your Eyes is art. The protagonist is an artist and his life is presented with according artism. That’s where we go back to blinking.
A challenging game without “real” challenges
Before Your Eyes is a narrative adventure game. It means there are no complex puzzles nor any other, typical challenges. “Typical” is where the emphasis is. If you don’t want to miss a bit of the story and make your preferable choices, you need to carefully control your eyes. One accidental blink and puff! You move to another memory before the last one is concluded. Or even worse, you make a wrong decision (i.e. not the decision you wanted to make).
That’s why Before Your Eyes may be a difficult game, after all. You might even have to complete it more than once to get to the bottom of the story if you don’t focus enough on not blinking. You shouldn’t play it when you’re tired, and you should avoid moving your head too much (especially up and down), as the system can detect such movement as blinking. Moreover, the light in your room should be bright so that your face is clearly visible to the camera, which should be placed in front of your eyes, too great an angle is inadvisable. Not to mention that the view from the webcam cannot be blurry, and that your PC should be able to provide a stable framerate (yes, low FPS count also can hamper the experience).
Phew, those are quite the requirements, aren’t they? I must admit I was sometimes frustrated after missing a very interesting conversation (which applies to any conversation in the game) by blinking accidentally, or – worse still – by way of the game mistakenly interpreting my movement as blinking. A few times I also caught myself not paying attention to the dialogue at all, being too occupied with what my eyes were doing.
But worry not. If you don’t think you’re up for the task of not blinking for extended periods of time, or you’re a type of player who wants to discover everything there is to discover without stress, or you just don’t have a webcam, you can simply use the left mouse button instead of blinks. However, if you value immersion, I recommend investing some time in getting used to this mechanics and calibrating the camera. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.
Another step towards more mature video games
Getting distracted from the narrative is even more harmful than you might think because it’s the story, not the innovative mechanics, that’s the real mainstay of Before Your Eyes. The tragic, yet vibrant life of Benjamin Brynn is filled with memorable moments of joy and sadness, as well as charismatic characters, witty dialogue read by excellent voice actors, and great music (that’s because Benny was supposedly destined to become a genius musician… or at least that’s what his mother tried to make OF him). It’s an eye-watering, thought-provoking experience, touching upon some difficult problems. In terms of causing strong emotions, Before Your Eyes is on par with the best in the genre, alongside games such as What Remains of Edith Finch.
It’s a shame that this grand story lasts only two hours or so (maybe less if you’re bad at not blinking). I wish I could spend more time with this colorful cast of characters. However, this is a reasonable amount of content considering the game’s price tag (10$). Especially given how long Before Your Eyes will live in your thoughts after the credits roll.
Christopher Mysiak | Gamepressure.com