It starts with a thought, that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes. The thought comes with an element of mystery to it. Does your life flash past in perfect detail, like a movie?
Or is it in snippets, bits and pieces of the most impactful things you experienced that fade in and out? If your soul was fished out of a dark ocean by a Ferryman, what would you tell them about your life?
Would you be honest, or would you embellish?
Before Your Eyes Review | Family Portrait
Before Your Eyes is a game that lures you in with its clever concept – a game you control with your blinks – and keeps you glued to your seat, eyes struggling to fight back a blink as you work to absorb as much information as you can before you move from one memory to another.
You set the pacing, whether voluntarily or involuntarily. For me, some blinks were definitely involuntary but what can I say, it’s hard to keep your eyes open and not blink when you’re crying.
And yes, Before Your Eyes is a tearjerker.
It’s hard to reveal exactly why this is without spoiling the story, and I believe it’s better to approach this game blank, not knowing what to expect. It’s more impactful that way.
Don’t watch Let’s Plays that reveal the ending, and don’t read through spoiler-filled reviews until you’ve finished the game yourself.
It shouldn’t take too long to play Before Your Eyes to completion either, with my playthrough coming in at a little over an hour and a half according to Steam.
If you’re someone who blinks a lot like I do and wants to recap anything you might have missed, you’re free to replay the game with your mouse instead of your blinks.
You can also select this option from the start if you don’t have a webcam.
The version played with a mouse in place of a webcam is quite interesting in and of itself.
Instead of tracking your blinks, the game lets you move your mouse cursor around freely and interact with things that way, using left-click to act as a blink would in the game.
You can stay in each scene as long as you like, and I’m very glad it’s an option the developers made available in addition to the intended way to play the game, through blinking.
Replaying with a mouse helps build upon the game’s core story further, and blinking mechanic aside, the game’s story is really one of its biggest strengths.
The main objective of the game is to stay in each scene, interact with it, notice things, and get a better understanding of the main character’s life.
However, there are a few mini games that you can play like trying to keep pace with the moving light bar on the piano and being in control of the art that the main character creates.
You won’t have to physically draw anything, but you do get to pick the version of the item that you feel looks the best and where that item goes on the canvas.
There are also a few “connect the dots” scenes where you select one dot and move it to another to do things like move between the pages of a piano composition, or connecting the dots of stars in the sky to reveal words.
And like any good interactive story, you’re given choices in the game from describing the character’s childhood as lonely or happy based on what you’ve seen, all the way to whether you answer a phone call from your friend while you’re practicing piano.
The choices you make help further immerse you in the story of this character because you feel as though you’re living their life vicariously.
Do you take that phone call, or do you ignore it? Will you regret your decision later on?
Life is full of variables you can’t control, and Before Your Eyes emphasizes this not only with its blink mechanic, but its story. Again, it’s hard to talk about the story without giving everything away and ruining it so I’m going to tread lightly here.
In a nutshell, you play as a character named Benjamin Brynn.
The game opens with you being fished out of the water by the Ferryman who walks you through what’s going on and gets you up to speed before sending you back to review your life, starting from the earliest memory you can remember.
Using these memories, the Ferryman hopes to make a case for you to the Gatekeeper, almost like a lawyer would for a client.
If the Ferryman is successful, they’ll be given a reward and you’ll be permitted to enter the Gatekeeper’s city. You know, no pressure or anything.
Going through memory after memory, you start to get a better idea of who Ben is and the life Ben has lived. At a certain point in the game, you’ll reach a point where the Ferryman begins to question the things you’re sharing with them.
And it’s here that things get really interesting, and where you can really dig down deep into the message the game is trying to send that’s not exclusive to Ben alone. It’s a message many will be able to relate to.
Everyone has memories they’d rather not revisit, ones left to gather dust in the darkest corners of the mind. Yet as painful as these memories can be, they are as much a part of us as the good memories.
If someone were to flash your life in front of the eyes of someone else who’d never met you before, would they really be able to know you from your good memories alone? I know for me, they definitely wouldn’t.
I wouldn’t want to relive the bad memories of my life, I’d probably fight against it too, but if someone wants to get the most accurate picture of who I am and who I was, those memories have to be included for them.
And as simple as the idea of retelling someone’s life story is, there’s an incredible depth to Before Your Eyes and a relatability to it. You aren’t Ben, but you may have similar memories to Ben that help connect you to him.
Painted handprints on the fridge as you grow up, your room and interests changing as you get older, playing a video game with your friend, or gazing out through a car window in the back of your parent’s car.
For me, I particularly loved the scene where Ben is in the back seat of his mother’s car and out the window you see windmills.
It reminded me a lot of my own childhood when my mother would commute to work and we’d drive through an area in California called the Altamont Pass which is full of windmills.
I’d always look out the backseat window, the same spot as Ben, and stare at those windmills. I loved it.
Seeing a similar scene in the game brought me right back to my own childhood, and made those final moments in the game all the more impactful.
We forget how important – and brief – these memories are. Time moves forward, we focus on other things, we forget. We can’t fight against time, just like we can’t fight back a blink.
It reminds us to cherish all of the moments we experience, big or small, and most importantly… the time we have with the people we love.
For Ben, his mother, father, and friend Chloe are the details that stand out the most in each of his memories.
It’s something I spent a lot of time thinking about prior to writing this review. How the memories fade in, not full scenes but paint splotches on a canvas.
But in every memory that Ben’s mother, father, or Chloe are in, they’re always in perfect focus. It’s a detail I find extremely poignant.
Other things like the shape of a room may not matter in the end, but the shape of a face, the sound of a song they play in the background, their voice, those are the memories we keep closest to our hearts.
Now if you excuse me, I’m going to go hug my son and tell him I love him because thinking about these aspects of Before Your Eyes is making me want to cry all over again.
Cherish the ones you love.
- Clever use of the eyes as a peripheral, while also offering an alternative way to play using your mouse instead of your webcam.
- A poignant story of life and death that illuminates the way we remember things, and reminds us to appreciate the time we’ve been given with our loved ones.
- Well-written, memorable characters from the mother and her music career, to the father who loves cats. The characters all feel real and believable.
- Beautiful art direction and sound design help bring every scene to life.
- Bonus points for the subtle details and hints sprinkled in throughout the game that reward you for keeping your eyes open and lingering in each scene for as long as possible.
- Not necessarily a con but if you’re anything like me you’ll be left in tears by the end so yeah… be prepared to cry.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.