There is this line that keeps bouncing around the gaming communities – a line I often use myself, because a lot of the time it is true. “Gameplay is king”. You often see this line in reference to games with a bad story; yeah the story sucks, but the gameplay is great, so who cares? I use that line a lot, because to me, the experience is king; make a game where the gameplay sucks or is just functional, but create an experience that is worthwhile in some way and you still have a great game in your hands. This is true of all mediums and all forms of entertainment; case in point: Before Your Eyes or BYE. This is a game that delivers one of the most unique and memorable experience of the year, whose gameplay consists of…blinking; one of its best moments is accomplished by having the player close their eyes and keeping them closed. If the line “gameplay is king” was true, then BYE is hour and half of wasted time, but thankfully it is not.
For those who are not familiar with the game, there may be some confusion about blinking being a mechanic; I am not referring to a move and this is not a stealth-sequel to Manual Samuel – thankfully that already exists, but I have not had the chance of playing it yet. BYE’s call to fame is that instead of using a controller or a keyboard, you play the game using a webcam and a mouse. The game literally puts you in the place of your character and you see the world through their eyes – literally. You control what you see with the mouse, but the game moves forward when you blink and you get to interact with things in that way; sometimes the game will ask you a question and you answer by blinking or not. BYE is not one of those cases where the developers use a seemingly shallow mechanic to create deep systems; instead, this is one of those cases where it immerses the audience in the story and allows them to experience a story in a novel way. It uses the natural impulse and need to blink to create a fitting way to tell a story about a person remembering their life and trying to figure out what kind of person they were; I wanted to linger in the moments that spoke to me, but just like real life, you can’t. Time moves forward and regardless of how interesting the words, the moments, and the situations are – despite how good or bad you feel – you will eventually blink and time will move forward.
Either that or the game fails to register my blinks and I get to see more than I am expected to, which happened quite a bit. In fact, that happened with the same frequency of the game registering blinks I did not make and moving the scene forward without getting all the context or making the choices I intended to. Despite my overall enjoyment with the game and its unique gimmick, I do want to stress something first: It does not work all that well. I’ve had numerous difficulties with getting it to work right and even after numerous calibrations (the game even has an achievement for that) to get it to ‘mostly functional’ levels, I found it to be inconsistent; sometimes it would register a blink when there was none and sometimes, I had to BLINK hard to get it to register. I would be lying if I said this was a trivial matter; I spent a lot of time in the game worrying about how well the game would track me and, as said before, it led to making choices (or not making them) without my input, which was frustrating. I would also be lying if I said that I hold it against the game; my set up was not perfect and I think after I removed my glasses it seemed to help, however going back to it and playing it with a “conventional” control setup sounds absurd. There is no other way to play this game, in my opinion, and I hope that in the future, there are can be an update to the tracking software or it was a weird issue for me; to be fair, the aforementioned achievement only had a 0.8% completion rate, which indicates a problem on my side.
Technical stuff aside, BYE is an experience tailor-made for maximum, emotional impact and it got me; I cared about the story and wanted to see it through; I loved the characters and wanted to explore them as people and their narratives; I loved the little twists in narrative and design. The writing is genuinely great and is filled with heart; it is clearly personal for the devs and that comes through in the experience. I felt like I know the characters in real life – or at least I know people who would be those characters – and the struggles and themes represented and explored are universal, poignant, and well-imagined. I don’t want to get into specifics, because I feel like that would spoil the experience, but I would like to highlight a specific aspect that caught me by surprise; despite the writing being phenomenal, the experience delivered in a unique way, and the audiovisual presentation being surprisingly good, I was blown away by the voice acting. The VO carries a lot of the experience with some surprisingly decent comedic timing that allows the game some moments of levity, but mostly, the actors manage to convey the emotions and tone of the story in a way text alone would have found it nearly impossible to do with such an impact. There are moments where it is – literally – up to them to deliver what the entire experience is aiming for and all of them are on point and deserve a lot of praise for pulling of a particularly difficult task.
To close with, BYE is the type of game I would recommend to almost anyone with an interest in a good, emotionally-charged experience, regardless of their preferred medium. This is a game that is not demanding on hardware and does not require too much of an explanation as to what it is and how to play it; despite my technical issues with it, I still found the experience to be one of the best of the year and one that I found memorable and impactful. I love it so much and I can’t wait for more, similarly bizarre and quirky experiences from the devs, and this is one of those games I will come back to again and again, particularly at the end of the year.