Blink And You’ll Miss It
HIGH A beautiful, yet heartbreaking story that grows stronger as it progresses.
LOW Forcing the player to keep their eyes open to hear important dialogue.
WTF The Ferryman sure loves barking at pigeons.
Developers are constantly looking for new ways to make their games feel fresh and innovative. From rumble packs to motion control, it’s been fascinating to see what new technologies have arisen over the years to create increasingly immersive experiences. Now with the mechanic of blinking, Before Your Eyes experiments with a new way of storytelling. Whether it’s from keeping one’s eyes open for too long, or from some incredibly emotional moments, it’s an eye-watering experience.
Before Your Eyes puts the player in the perspective of Benny, a newly-perished soul afloat on the sea of the afterlife. Benny is soon scooped up by The Ferryman – a cat (or canine?) with a missing ear and thesaurus. They’re soon on their way to the Gatekeeper, who will decide if Benny can enter her heavenly city. To determine if he is worthy, the Ferryman initiates a retelling of Benny’s life from a first-person perspective, from his first memories to his last moments on Earth.
The story of Benny’s life is a heartfelt and poignant tale – one of a child prodigy with a mental disorder which makes him feel isolated from other children his age. Torn between his piano studies and wanting to feel like a normal kid, Before Your Eyes takes the player on an emotional rollercoaster by tackling concepts such as parental relations, death and loss, and not living up to one’s own expectations. Experiencing the highs and lows of Benny’s life is a cathartic experience, and one that will remind every player of their own childhood hopes and dreams, their first love, and the heartbreak of failure.
The game features alternate story routes, as the player can shape Benny’s life depending on what actions he takes. For example, directing Benny to get extra sleep before a big piano audition or staying up late to hang out with his crush can alter the course of his entire life. Though the tale is brief, this creates replay value and can expand an already-lush storyline.
To avoid spoiling the story, I’ll just say that Before Your Eyes surprised me around every turn. Just when I thought I knew where Benny’s life was headed, the game would alter course and make me fall in love with our hero even more. Further, the story’s halfway point is accompanied by a major plot twist that simultaneously gives a whole new meaning to the story thus far, and left me in tears for the remainder of its running time.
The line between emotional stimulus and game mechanics is blurred in Before Your Eyes’ central concept — physically blinking. Using a webcam, it uses the player’s actual, real-life eye blinks to advance through Benny’s life. The technology works surprisingly well, and the game’s recognition was exceedingly sensitive to my eye motions.
Though this mechanic seemed slightly gimmicky at the outset, the way blinking is woven into the storytelling decisions grew stronger as things went on. Some of the most potent uses of this mechanic come in the final moments, and they moved me in a way no video game has in years.
Unfortunately, the blinking mechanic has a major drawback — when a metronome appears onscreen, a blink will progress the story to the next scene. However, there are usually important conversations occurring when the metronome appears, and if the player blinks, the game will skip the dialogue and go into the following scene.
Given how invested I was in the script, I wanted to hear every bit of writing. But, the only way to do this was to either cover my eyes (missing the visuals) or force myself to keep my eyes open to the point of discomfort. There were multiple occasions I unintentionally blinked or shut my eyes just as the metronome happened to appear onscreen, and I missed entire exchanges. I’m fine with blinking being the trigger for progress, I just wish I had the option of centering my view on the metronome to advance, rather than accidentally skipping dialogue and needing to replay an entire chapter to hear what I missed. Though, conceptually, I suppose that’s the point — certain moments in life are gone much sooner than desired.
Despite my occasionally-bloodshot orbs, Before Your Eyes is an experience I won’t soon forget. Its combination of masterful storytelling, engaging character progression and stunning conclusion put it in contention for best narrative game I’ve ever played, and it also reminded me to savor life at its best and worst moments. No small feat for an indie title hanging everything on an all-new form of interaction.
— Alex Prakken
Disclosures: This game was developed by GoodbyeWorld Games, published by Skybound Games, and available on PC. Review copy obtained by publisher. The game takes an hour and a half to finish, but chapters can be replayed to see how the story morphs depending on the player’s choices.
Parents: At the time of review, the game does not have an ESRB rating. There are some adult themes centering around death and sickness, and one upsetting image involving blood. I would say this game is suitable for Everyone 10+.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The entire game is voice acted, and subtitles can be added in a variety of languages (see example above) but there seemed to be a glitch preventing me from turning those subtitles on. There is no option for resizing subtitles. The game can be played without sound, making it fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The controls are not remappable, though this game is exclusively a mouse-based point-and-click adventure (or should I say point-and-blink?)