Developer / Publisher – GoodbyeWorld Games / Skybound Games
Price – US $14.99 / CAN $19.99 / EU €17.99 / UK £19.99
Release Date – March 9, 2023
Input – 2 x Tracked Motion Controllers, DS4
Play Area – Seated
Store – PlayStation
Reviewed on – PSVR 2
I won’t spoil anything important to the plot as how the story unfolds is THE reason to pick this up so here’s what I’ll give you. You experience the life of Benjamin through his memories, with the game opening after his death on a ferry ride to the after life. It’s here where you must revisit pivotal moments in your life so the dog-like ferryman can plead your case to those who will allow you to pass on. What’s interesting is that, to progress the story, you’ll have to use PSVR 2’s eye tracking which specifically tracks when you blink because when you do, you’ll flash forward to the next memory, potentially skipping key moments that may be important later on. Now don’t fret as you do have the option of turning that off with the final act of the game letting you revisit some of these moments for a second go so while it’s true that ‘if you blink, you will miss it’, it’s not the end of the world. The story here won’t take more than 90 minutes to get through and plays in relatively linear fashion, feeling much more like an extended experience than a game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
During each scene a metronome icon will appear and when it does, regardless of if the memory is still playing out, your next blink will move you forward to the next recollection, which could be the next day, month or even years from your last one. Some scenes do have additional interactions which allow you to draw patterns in the night sky, move clouds or just use items nearby as indicated by an eye icon. By looking at said icon and blinking, instead of moving on to the next memory, you’ll interact with what you are looking at with some these being choices you can make to change up the memory a little bit. It’s unfortunate that outside of blinking, eye tracking isn’t used for any other interactions in the game so with a little white dot reticle in the center of your screen, you’ll have to use standard head tracking to look at the stuff you can manipulate. The only other technical issue I’ll mention is that on some scenes, the game tries to force you to look forwards by turning your screen black and giving you misleading screen text that say “Return to play area” if you turn your head away from the action which I found to be very immersion breaking as all I wanted to do was to check out what was around me. Neither of these issues are game breaking but in a game with such minimal interaction, I think a little more use of eye tracking and letting me view the scenes I was placed in would’ve helped further immerse me in these memories.
With that said, I really did enjoy the blinking mechanic and cursed myself every time I accidentally ended a scene and though that can be a little frustrating at times, it’s a great excuse to revisit the game again to see what you may have missed. For those trying to cheat the system, winking one eye counts as blink so don’t even bother…I tried it, it didn’t work. There are also a few unique interactions like when you are playing a piano that can be a little challenging as you try and follow the key prompt as it moves back and forth across the piano though these moments are few and far between adding a little bit of game to the story and a little depth to what is otherwise a very narrative heavy experience.
As much as I enjoyed the story being told and how it plays out, my largest gripe with the game has to be the art style, which I found to be, well, not very immersive. I understand that this was made by a relatively small team and that it was originally made as a flat game, but the very simple art style used, in my opinion, reduced the emotional impact of the story. The basic, cartoon facial expressions and limited body motions had me longing for a little more detail, at least in the human models. The style chosen looks much more akin to something you’d see on a low budget toddler’s TV show, which would be fine for some games I suppose but in here, I just found it to be contradictory to the emotionally heavy story being told. Outside of the character models, that simplicity matters much less with almost of the game taking place in front you in dreamlike fashion with the focus of that memory being surrounded by a shifting black background, as if you were looking at it though a lens. Sometimes you can expand these memories and scenes by looking at areas out of sight whereupon that blackness recedes, but for the most part you’ll just be jumping from once memory to the next, taking in as much as you can without blinking. I don’t want to say the game looks bad, just so stripped that, at times, it took away from some of the more impactful scenes.
It’s really hard to talk about the performances here without ruining the plot so all I will say the all the actors do an amazing job at their respective roles, even if it doesn’t seem like they are at the time. Your parents and neighbour are whom you will talk with the most though you don’t have a voice so most of the game has you passively listening to them talk with those occasional interactions allowing you to steer a few memories in different directions. Spatial audio is present but with almost all the story happening in front of you, it’s underutilized and even if characters were to your right or left, it was often hard to tell where they were, and it wasn’t until I removed one of my ear buds to see if there was 3D audio did I actually notice it. The soundtrack here is designed to cinematically fall into the background, rarely if ever overpowering the situation which I appreciated as the music did accentuate the scenes it was being played in without ever taking away from the acting, which is great as the performances are the saving grace in here.
I liked Before Your Eyes, and it really needs to be played through in its entirety before being judged as the few issues I had with the story telling were justified by how the tale ends. This is more experience than game but if you are looking for what ultimately ends up being an interactive film, then I think you’ll enjoy this as long you’re not adverse to some tragedy. While I do think the eye tracking could be better utilized in VR, it’s still a fun mechanic that adds a unique layer of depth to this emotional tale but this might be a title to purchase on a sale as it’s shortcoming to hamper the immersion and thus the story…at least it did for myself.
Skybound Games provided The VR Grid with a press code for this title and, regardless of this review, we thank them for that!