Blink and you’ll miss it
It’s the first day of December, and all through the blog, the writers of Destructoid are clearing their backlog. So in my efforts to catch up with some missed notables in the run-up to award season, I decided to boot up indie narrative Before Your Eyes last night. And frankly, it’s really taken ahold of me.
If you haven’t heard of Before Your Eyes, it’s a narrative adventure from GoodbyeWorld Games with a pretty interesting premise. Stepping into the head of someone else, you watch through their eyes as you whisk through their life. You are Benjamin, Benny, and you are reliving Benny’s life.
Going back through Benny’s memories, you relive all of it through his eyes. From birth to death, you see it all in a first-person view. Even, at times, making choices. And sometimes those choices are whether or not you blink.
The crux of the experience is that you play Before Your Eyes with a webcam plugged in. Using eye-detection software, the game will recognize when you’ve blinked. Sometimes, that’s how you select options or advance through a scene. Sometimes, it’s how you leave one moment in time—potentially forever.
You might be starting to get the idea now. Benny’s life is not an easy one, and you sit in the driver’s seat as he goes through family drama, growing pains, and difficult moments in life. To say more is to spoil more, and for a game that will take just about 90 minutes to see through, it’s really best to just go in as unaware as possible.
Because really, Before Your Eyes has become one of my big knockout surprises of the year. In the way that fellow indie game Unpacking—another on my backlog—touches on the tactile, Before Your Eyes hones in on the visual. And, by nature, the fleeting.
It was so easy, early on, to accidentally blink and skip through a major scene. Every time an advance is coming up, a metronome will appear, signaling that your next blink will take you further into Benny’s life. It’s a nice reminder that can, in some circumstances, become menacing. What if you don’t want to leave? What if you want to stay here, in this moment? Better keep those eyes open.
Every once in a while, an indie project simply stuns with its execution on an idea. Games like Florence and Gorogoa take one concept, and then twist and turn that concept to tell a story that fits so well. And Before Your Eyes belongs in the same conversation. The usage of eyes—blinking and staring and shutting—as a mechanical concept works incredibly well.
It’s something we do that’s so mechanical, it’s automatic. We don’t think about blinking, at least not until someone points it out to us. It flits by, much like the little events in life. The notes we passed in history class, playing with a toy boat in a tub, listening to a loved one play a tune at the piano. Every little car trip, every little conversation, can all blink right by so mechanically. Even major life events punctuating the mundane are all, eventually, just blinks of your eye.
Before Your Eyes definitely has a few stutters. I had to recalibrate my eye tracking a few times, and its best experience requires a very specific setup. Needing a PC and a webcam to play isn’t always the easiest ask.
Yet if you have the capabilities, Before Your Eyes is an experience you absolutely need to undertake. At some points, I thought I knew what emotional strings it was going to pull on. But even when I was right, the way in which it did so, and how it used the eye-tracking as part of it, worked so well that it still floored me.
In a year of some big games, Before Your Eyes is something you’re not going to experience anywhere else. And it is, in my opinion, something you need to set aside an evening for. It’s currently available on PC via Steam here.