Review written by Stephen Deck; originally posted 04/19/2021 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
Before your eyes is an indie PC game that I’d never even heard of before I saw a retweet from the developer talking about a Steam review from a guy who played the game, loved the game, and then refunded the game because it was short. A TON of people were like “Wow, screw that guy. I’ve never heard of this game, but that’s a dick move, so I bought it to support the developer.” Never one to miss a good pro-game dev bandwagon, I decided to go drop $10 on the game, too. For the record, the dick from the Steam review apologized and repurchased the game after the Internet Inquisition got its hooks into him.
Before Your Eyes is one of the most unique games I think I’ve ever played. It’s controlled primarily with your webcam to track your blinks; the only input from your mouse is to move a cursor, and the keyboard isn’t used at all. You have a very limited amount of camera movement with the mouse, and you blink to interact with objects and progress to the next scene (there’s no movement in a traditional 3D space). The game follows the life of Benjamin Brynn from early childhood through to the end of his life. The narrative is told as a frame story – think Heart of Darkness if you’ve ever read that – where Benjamin’s soul has been fished up by a boatman who is going to plead his case to the Gatekeeper to allow his soul into her heavenly city.
That Steam review was right about the length; my playthrough took me less than 90 minutes. This game exemplifies the phrase “quality over quantity,” though. When most games look to make their games longer to cram in more “value,” GoodbyeWorld sought to make a game that left an impression on the player, not just took up their time, and I can’t think of a game that’s ever done this quite this well or succinctly. All in the span of 80 minutes, I smiled, laughed, grew angry, felt anxious, and cried real tears of sorrow. I’ve never played a game that moved me psychologically as much as Before Your Eyes did without being straight-up trauma porn like Doki Doki Literature Club. It’s not just the aggregate whole that’s superb, either; each element of this game oozes with love, care, and talent. The motion capture for the boatman is excellent despite the game’s being made by a nine-person team. The writing is superb with a script and story that would fit in seamlessly with classic short stories. I don’t know how experienced the cast was, but the voice acting doesn’t have even the slightest hint of amateur talent; the voice cast was either extremely experienced or poured in the hours of rehearsals needed to nail each and every part this perfectly. The art especially needs to get a special mention. You never see the whole world during any given scene; the majority of the world stays obscured by an inky blackness that focuses in on the important elements of the scene, and the 3D art in the game mixes with this blackness in a way that evokes at least in me thoughts of impressionist and surrealist art with certain scenes towards the end reminding me almost of Dada.
I’d love to talk about the story and analyze the symbolism of different elements and allusions in the writing, but the story is so damn well written that I refuse to risk spoiling anything for folks who might go on to play it. Suffice it to say that this is an extremely unique experience not quite like anything I’ve played previously. The love and care put into the development are readily apparent in every aspect from the visuals to the writing to the voice acting to the music. I just absolutely adore everything about this game and cannot praise it enough. It’s a shame that the webcam is so central to the experience because I’d love to see this game ported far and wide so more people could experience it. I suppose it could theoretically work on PS5 if you had the camera, but having to sit close enough for it to track your blinks accurately makes this a game that probably needs to remain PC exclusive.
A lot of people debate whether video games truly count as art or not, but I would challenge anyone to play Before Your Eyes and tell me that this isn’t a masterpiece of art after getting to the end. It may be an extremely short game, but with choices to make throughout the game that can affect various elements, it’s also not a game you’re likely to play through once and be finished with. $10 may feel steep for a 90 minute game to some folks, but I give you my word that it’s well worth every penny, and I’d suspect that I’ll probably be at five or six hours by the time I’ve seen all that the game has to offer. Even if I did only ever spend 90 minutes with this game, the quality of the experience I had in those 90 minutes is still well worth $10. This really is a once-in-a-generation game in my opinion and a masterpiece of artistic expression. I’ve recommended a lot of games over my life, but this one is probably on my All-Time Top Five Must Play list.