Before Your Eyes is an interactive VR story like no other where you experience the joys and discouragement of childhood through the eyes of a child by reliving his memories. Throughout the journey, you’ll discover emotions by connecting his story to the truths of the human condition and what it means to be alive.
Waking up in a boat, you are quickly brought up to speed on your condition by a talking anthropomorphic wolf — you have left the mortal coil. You, a child named Benjamin Brynn, are being ferried through a river of souls. He motions to the impossibly-tall tower looming in the distance and mentions the gatekeeper who lives there; he is taking you to her and she will judge you and the life you lived.
If you have lived a good life as he assumed, you’ll be accepted into the afterlife, but if you try to lie about how you carried your life, you will be turned into one of the seagulls that adhere to the stern of his craft. He relives every critical moment with you as you explore the depths of these candid memories, and as you dive in, you start to uncover some chilling truths.
Exploring the memories of Benjamin begins at the beginning with a relaxing day at the beach with his mother, and it’s here that you learn how the unique gameplay works. She is an aspiring musician and is working on a composition, but a page of her notes flies away. If you look over to the left, you’ll see a floating eye icon. Blinking there allows you to reveal a seagull as it flies away with the page.
Blinking or not blinking are the main ways to interact with items in the environment and when it’s time to change the scene, a metronome will tick away to let you know that the next time you blink, you will jump forward in time. This all works like just like our actual memories, remembering what you saw and what details stand out specifically if you think hard enough. ‘Blink and you’ll miss it’ is also realized literally here because even if you’re in the middle of a dialogue of your family’s reactions to the moments playing out before you, blinking takes you out of the moment, and on to the next.
As you grow up through Benjamin’s eyes, Before Your Eyes reveals critical moments like birthdays, piano recitals, and the meeting of your best friend. You experience the heartache of love and loss and experience his story as it takes its dark turn. There are several different choices you can make along the way, some being timed ones that require action or inaction to further the moment, but for the most part, you’re there to experience the ride of growing up and the beauty of a life lived.
Each leg of the story focuses on a particular chapter of Ben’s life, but the experience here is much more than just watching a movie. There are more scenes of heartache than not, and just when you think you’ve gone through that valley and onto another happy memory, Before Your Eyes hits your heartstrings again. It’s cathartic, it’s humbling, and fitting with the theme of the game, sometimes it’s just hard to keep going, uncomfortable in just the right ways to make the hardship of dealing with dark themes like death and self-doubt part of understanding the moments in time that we relive, over and over.
Revisiting the blink mechanic, sometimes it’s physically difficult to keep yourself at that moment, and this is where the gameplay really shines. Listening to your parents fight about your artistic pursuits as a musician or artist, just to come to a point where if you find yourself unable to do anything but give your eyes a break, the moment is gone, and you’re left with the regret of not experiencing it all within that moment. Some of the most engaging situations are when you are asked to, instead of blinking, keep your eyes closed, often to listen to the harsh truths of your family or loved ones speaking to each other about Ben’s talents or their health concerns.
When it was first released in 2021, Before Your Eyes was released for use with a webcam or later came out for smart devices and used the front-facing camera when you blinked. Playing on the Playstation VR2, not only did I get the chance to experience Benjamin’s story in first-person virtually, I had the same ability to play the game as it was truly intended with the eye-tracking that made my own ability to withstand the urge to blink part of the ride.
Before Your Eyes caused me to tear up, not just due to the subject matter, but to the fact that I wanted to capture all the emotion in those fights, in those arguments, in the discoveries that were beautiful and haunting at the same time. That was enough for me to try to keep my eyes open to simply delay the blink that I knew was coming and the eye strain of that fight left my eyes watering when I did finally give in.
While it’s a hard pill to swallow, Before Your Eyes is engaging in a way that makes it hard to express in words. Emotions swell throughout, as the hardships in Ben faces are easy to relate to, and they sting just as much as they did as we recall moments from our own lives. The story is particularly challenging to experience, especially if you’ve recently had to deal with the illness or death of a loved one, but the game manages to frame it in a gorgeous package that shines brilliantly with hope. Before Your Eyes offers a glimpse into this world with a stark reminder of why life is worth living and each fleeting moment is worth cherishing.
Before Your Eyes was reviewed for the PSVR2. It is also available on Steam and on Android or iOS for free with a subscription to Netflix.