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access_time April 8, 2021 at 6:00 AM in Reviews by Josh Boykin

Review | Before Your Eyes

It’s hard to appreciate the passage of time when you’re in the middle of it. Time has a strange way of stretching and shrinking, making amazing moments feel like an instant, and painful ones feel like an eternity. But, given enough time, most any moment can feel like it passed in the blink of an eye. This is where Before Your Eyes shines.

Before Your Eyes hones in on this experience, taking you through the life of Benjamin Brynn. Riding on a ferryboat in the afterlife, you play as Benjamin, reviewing snippets of his life from childhood on forward. Guided by a wolf-like ferryboat captain, this journey has a time limit: the scenes advance when you blink. And this isn’t in-game blinking: it’s you, as the player, blinking.

Before Your Eyes special hook comes from eye-tracking; when you play with the webcam on, the game tracks your eyes and will advance the screen when you blink. Thankfully, this doesn’t mean the game is simply over in 5 minutes when you have dry eyes: scenes use different triggers to help you control how long you stay in a moment. (As a note, you can choose to play without a webcam and click the mouse to represent blinking, but I wholly recommend using the tracking if you’re able.)

Looking around each scene with the mouse, you can blink at certain objects to interact with them. Each scene plays out in real-time. This can be when you’re a toddler playing a toy piano and listening to your mother, or even a teenager meeting the slightly-weird girl next door. Often times though, a metronome will appear at the bottom of the screen; no matter where you’re looking, your next blink will carry you to the next scene.

“This is a metronome,” Elle, Ben’s mother, says early in the game. “We use it to measure time so we don’t get lost in the music.” Ben has a gift for music from a young age, and it becomes his mother’s goal to cultivate that skill, for him to grow into a brilliant musician. But even as the story takes its turns, the metronome returns to push the narrative forward, regardless of how long you want to stay in a moment.

I’ll go ahead and say it now: I adore Before Your Eyes. A big part of the game’s success comes from masterful weaving of metaphor and mechanics. The metronome isn’t just a logo: it changes tempo, with its tick feeling like it’s yanking you forward or slowing you down. Sometimes the fast pace made me blink, hurtling me to the next moment even when I knew there was a piece of dialog I wanted to hear, a moment I wanted to explore.

The game makes emotional connection to each mechanic, especially the eye-tracking. A couple moments in particular brought me to tears by changing the mechanics ever-so-slightly. Admittedly, this complicates the ability to play a game about blinking. Those solid gut-punches translate to the player because the mechanics are used specifically to tell a story, not just for novelty.

Benny Brynn’s story is one of family. One of a professor and a musician-turned-accountant who fell in love and had a child. It’s a household of love, but not always happiness. Perhaps one of the game’s best features is the way it tells a sometimes-painful story of relationships and parenting without leaning on domestic abuse or other heavy triggers for its anchoring.

All the same, it is a story of trauma as well. The way conflicts and dark moments can shape our futures in ways we don’t recognize…or don’t want to recognize. Elle’s drive to push Ben to musical stardom shapes the entire family’s arc in painful ways. But Before Your Eyes is also a story of hope, of the wonders of life that aren’t the capstone moments. It’s a celebration of the small dinners, the lazy Sundays…of love in so many forms.

Before Your Eyes does something incredibly special by mixing an innovative mechanics-based hook with a truly heartwarming (and heartbreaking) story. Through the roughly two hours of playtime, the narrative takes some great turns that keep each moment compelling until the very end. The world could certainly do with more games like Before Your Eyes. I can only hope to see more amazing games in its wake.

Final Score: 10 out of 10

GotGame is on OpenCritic, check out our reviews here.


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