A good story isn’t defined by how it makes its audience feel as they’re experiencing it. Instead, it’s defined by how it makes the audience feel after the fact. A good story keeps its audience thinking about it for hours after; it’s over with emotions running high.
Such a good story can be found in “Before Your Eyes.”
Released on April 8 by Skybound Games, “Before Your Eyes” is a game that skillfully combines art, music and characters to tell a gripping story that will make you laugh, cry and return to laughing in a matter of minutes.
The story follows the life and death of Benjamin Brynn, a gifted piano player who would rather be something else. The game opens to Benjamin’s soul being fished out of the water by a self-proclaimed orator whose goal is to get Benjamin accepted into what is essentially a happy afterlife. In order to do so, Benjamin must relive certain parts of his life, and the thesaurus-toting, humanoid cat must tell that story to the gatekeeper, who will decide whether or not Benjamin deserves the afterlife he seeks.
“Before Your Eyes'' utilizes a common computer part in a unique way, which is partly why it has been so well-received. Using a webcam, the game detects when the player blinks, and will progress the game every time it does. If you don’t have a webcam, don’t fret. You can play the game without one by using the mouse to “blink.”
In doing so, however, you lose out on what could be considered an integral part of the game. Throughout the game, you jump from memory to memory and get to experience Benjamin’s life in an intimate way. Whenever the player blinks, the game jumps to the next memory.
I found myself straining to keep my eyes open for as long as possible in order to experience as much as I could of each scene. I was so drawn towards the characters, and thus into the story itself, that I wanted to hear every bit of dialogue possible. Every time my eyes would fail me and I would blink, throwing myself into a new memory, it really hammered home the creator’s overall message of the game.
“No matter how much you like it, you’re not going to be able to stay,” says the orator at the beginning of the game.
With the combination of the webcam feature and the deep story, “Before Your Eyes” manages to simultaneously dry out your eyes and make them well up with tears.
In addition to this meaningful mechanic, the game offers witty dialogue that makes the characters feel real despite their simple appearances. In one instance, a well-known art teacher informs Benjamin that the world is always in need of greeting card artists after he does poorly on a drawing assignment. Despite having no real control over how the drawing came out, I was personally offended on Benjamin’s behalf.
Soon after, Benjamin writes about himself, “Color and shape were the first languages he learned to speak,” showcasing the game’s ability to use both funny and insightful dialogue to create a well-rounded experience.
The game’s side characters also undergo plenty of character development, which only adds to the completeness of the game and makes you want what’s best for all of them, rather than just the protagonist.
On the technical side of things, the game is extremely well made. Prior to the opening cutscene, it takes a moment to calibrate to make sure it’s capturing your blinks correctly. It asks users whether or not they’re wearing glasses, and it allows them to press the spacebar to recalibrate if needed at any time.
Even my old webcam, which clocks in at a solid 720p resolution on the best days, was powerful enough for the game to properly register my blinks without additional calibrating.
“Before Your Eyes” offers the player a couple of inconsequential choices throughout the game, which the user will select by blinking, of course. Although they don’t change the overall plot or ending of the game, these choices do affect the characters themselves, and alternate dialogue will occur depending on which choices are made.
Aside from the blinking mechanic, visual cues are also used to depict the passage of time. In once instance, it might be impossible to tell that time is passing if not for the calendar on the wall and Benjamin’s increasing piano skills.
“Before Your Eyes” is an extremely polished game. At the time of writing, it boasts 385 reviews on Steam, 98% of which are positive. It only took me two hours to get through, and it left me both wanting more and being completely satisfied with the ending. Well-written, well-executed and well-received, it acts as a strong reminder to enjoy the moments you’re experiencing rather than spending too much time focusing on the future.
After all, no matter how much you want to, you’re not going to be able to stay.