GoodbyeWorld Games, an LA-based indie studio, holds unique and unforgettable storytelling at its core. That ethos was what took studio director and founder Will Helwarth and his game, Close Your, to earn the Game Developers Choice award at 2014’s Indiecade, followed by the Student Award at the Independent Game Awards in 2015.
Six years later, we’ve been presented the full-length version of that original award-winning game – Before Your Eyes. With a unique, blink-based mechanic, it aims to create a novel way to play by utilising a player’s webcam. Tracking eye moments, the game focuses on enhancing interaction through the story and the world it’s set in, the goal being innovative storytelling via one’s life flashing before your eyes.
Before Your Eyes mostly achieves its goals. With clever writing and the clear passion in its design present throughout, GoodbyeWorld Games has managed to present a story that will rock any player to their core. Despite its unique selling point acting as a double-edged sword in practice, any frustration that might be felt by the gameplay will remain gripped by the narrative until the credits roll.
Before Your Eyes released on the 8th of April 2021, now available on Steam.
STORY – A SIGHT FOR SORE EYES
Shortly after death, you’re taken aboard the boat of the Ferryman, a mythical being whose task is to guide souls into the afterlife. To do that, he must learn more about you by having you relive crucial events of a life once lived. You’re tasked with witnessing the protagonist’s most precious memories, seen through his eyes from a first-person perspective. With the blinking mechanic, you can control how you interact with the world, skip between scenes, and make crucial choices along with way.
As the recently departed Benjamin Brynn, you relive the important events of his life, but it’s equally the other elements; additional characters, aesthetical nuances, and the game’s ultimate message; that makes Before Your Eyes so captivating. Starting at a young age, your journey through Benjamin’s eyes embodies the highs and lows of instances that can shape the entirety of a person’s life, and the rippling effect their consequences can have throughout the years.
Experiencing music for the first time through your toy piano, meeting your family cat, playing a Pokémon rip-off with your best friend, watching your parents enjoy loving banter with one another, or basking in the joys of a successfully built career – you can’t help but be immersed in a life that isn’t even your own. Elle and Richard, though, your in-game mother and father, are the true stars that make Benjamin’s upbringing a delight to watch and connect with, Elle especially.
A nurturing mother who was once an aspiring composer-turned-accountant, Elle is an example of how child-and-parent relationships can differ so greatly throughout life, most often in a grey area rather than steering into the black or white, like many games unfortunately do. Skipping through the years as a highlight reel of interconnected events, an example of Before Your Eyes shining at its brightest is when it casts light on how we start to view our parents as individuals, rather than those who are merely caring for us, making us empathetic to their wellbeing as well as your own. Such a reminder being executed so well is rare in any medium, let alone gaming.
Relating to such universally important elements of one’s life makes the more emotional memories we’re playing through hit hardest. For many, it can as if GoodbyeWorld Games has seen into how we look back and even forward into our own lives before putting them on-screen; so, for a moment, those same feelings we’ve had through our own journeys are brought back up to the surface. Showing what it can be like to relive these memories powerfully conveys how we can easily carry regrets throughout the years, and Before your Eyes encourages us to not let those stop us from living to the fullest.
Choices can be made in this game, but all have little to no impact. With those like choosing whether to lash out at your mother, play hooky with your best friend, or taking up a major career opportunity, the story only diverges shortly before returning to the same path, although you can revisit particular segments through a Chapter Select to see how differently some scenes might play out. To that end, offering any choice at all can feel like an empty gesture at times, but the story is so intriguing, any misgivings quickly fade away.
Outside the memories you relive through Benjamin’s eyes, the grander tale between your soul and the Ferryman is its own fable of twists and turns. Where you begin to feel you might be taken in one particular direction, the game subverts expectations by delving far deeper into its subject, in a way that makes its dealing with the themes of death and regret all the more compelling. Even without the real-world blinking mechanic as a feature of its first-person narrative, Before Your Eyes’ approximate 2-hour story stands as a reason to play all on its own.
GAMEPLAY- “BLINK AND YOU’RE DEAD”
Playing through the eyes of another person whilst reliving their memories, Before Your Eyes’ continued encouragement of world interaction can be a fascinating wonder. The result is a continued yearning to learn more about the person you’re playing as. Simply using a mouse, the game’s intuitive UI does a great job at conveying how to touch and move objects in Benjamin’s point-of-view, without moments of confusion that would normally interrupt the flow of each scene. What’s more, parts of memories you might have personalised, such as choosing how to arrange paintings or drawings, can appear in later events as you designed them, making the experience at hand feel just a bit more like it’s your own.
Implementing adjoining lines to guide you through turning a page; noticing squiggly shapes or a pencil that communicate you’re supposed to be drawing or taking notes; incorporating an eye symbol that signals a need to blink in order to progress the scene—it’s easy to become quickly engrossed with every aspect of the story.
The unique blink interaction mechanic is supposed to further-establish a sensation of life flashing before your eyes. Although, this real-life eye detection mode is optional. If playing without a webcam or are physically unable to interact with this feature comfortably, you can turn off the eye detection mode and have blinks simulated with the clicks of your mouse instead. Whilst eye symbols cue the need to blink and further the memory in play, a ticking metronome at some point appears at the bottom of the screen, indicating the next-detected blink will skip you to the next scene. When playing as the developer intended, the real-life blinking mechanic works flawlessly.
Whether you’re using a streaming-quality USB webcam or a laptop-installed variety, of which recorded video is far choppier, the eye capture mode manages to catch every movement as long as it’s calibrated properly before playing.
That high-quality functionality is what brings us to Before Your Eyes’ greatest issue; the eye capture works TOO well when paired with misplacements of the aforementioned metronome. Often appearing at what seems to be halfway through a memory, the ticking metronome brings dread as it manifests at the bottom of your screen.
Working so effectively, the eye capture mechanic makes memories abruptly end and skip forward, sometimes before you can even register what’s happened. Whilst you still might be enjoying listening to a character’s dialogue or interacting with the scene, the metronome pops up with the ticking sound in tow, causing you to instantly strain your eyes to avoid blinking for as long as you can, just to finish the particular glimpse into Benjamin’s life that you’re immersed in witnessing for the first time.
With that, I continuously found myself giving into frustration – bringing up the game menu, turning off the eye detection feature, and basking in the freedom of getting to experience each memory at hand for as long as I wanted – eventually clicking on the mouse to skip forward on my own terms. Be that as it may, the reason for the real-life blink feature being implemented the way it is understandable; life is fleeting, and when you think back through your experiences, memories almost never play to their fullest upon recollection, appearing and disappearing in what feels like an instant.
Sadly, the game contradicts itself in the fact that these memories we’re playing through aren’t our own. They’re someone else’s, a fictional character’s, sure, but someone else’s nonetheless. If I was playing a game that abruptly jumped ahead halfway through a cut scene derived from my own mind, I’d barely have any issue because I already know what happens. When playing Before Your Eyes however, although we’re acting as Benjamin Brynn, we the players are experiencing his memories for the first time, learning who he is in tandem with the Ferryman. We want to know more about the life of the person we’re dealing with, so even missing out on those additional details feels disjointed.
Even without the real-life eye detection feature, the blink mechanic still works just fine when performed through the mouse as a vehicle for interacting with Before Your Eye’s world. The story of Benjamin’s life and those he shared it with is mesmerising to experience, but when a game’s biggest selling point turns out to actually hamper the experience, feeling letdown is an inevitability, no matter how slight.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – BLISS FOR THE SENSES
Despite being a small team, GoodbyeWorld Games has managed to design a world that’s simplistic yet enthralling. By employing a cartoonish 3D graphical style, the result is a visual flair that not only fits the uneven-to-steady recollection of one’s memories, but is still contextually flexible enough to suit its shifts from colourful to darker tones, without feeling misplaced. Yet, the amount of detail actually lies in the number of everyday objects casually lying about each room, painting the picture of Benjamin’s memories to be far more alive.
Along with superb voice acting, music is one of your Before Your Eye’s biggest stars. A focal point of the plot, the game’s music, both non-diegetic and through piano played by its characters, was put together by team members with backgrounds in composition, as well as direction or design. If you have a love for thoughtfully crafted music, the game’s score will certainly stick with you for a long time. Thanks to the chapter select feature, no one would blame you for revisiting specific memories just for those unforgettable piano performances.
Before Your Eyes was reviewed on PC (Steam) with a review key provided by GoodbyeWorld Games.