Games aren’t frightened of dealing with sensitive subject matters anymore. Long gone are the days where games would be all about getting some macho commandos moving from point A to B, all while killing half the population of the world. In the last decade, we’ve had the chance to play titles that have dealt with loss, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and, in the case of the game at hand here today – Before I Forget – dementia. It’s great that Before I Forget isn’t afraid to deal with a subject matter that affects us all in some way, whether it has affected someone we love or someone we have known.
Developed by a two-woman team from Bristol in the UK, Before I Forget released on PC in 2020, before picking up several awards, some great reviews, and a BAFTA nomination. With that background, anyone should be eager to dive in and see what all the fuss is about. I did just that, and I haven’t been disappointed.
Before I Forget is played in the first person, as you head off on a journey that starts in a normal suburban house. You are Sunita, looking for your husband because you are both going out somewhere. As you progress through the hallway and into the rooms of this house you see messages on the wall, written on sticky pads with instructions or reminders not to do something. But then you start to find objects, which in turn trigger memories about the past and what that object means to you. It is here where you start to put the pieces together.
You see, you’re a scientist who studies the stars, your husband is a talented classical composer and everything is wonderful… but soon you are lost in the house again, travelling from room to room without really getting anywhere. A phone message on an answering machine comes in; one from a stranger who is worried about you. She’s coming over to check if you’re alright. What is happening?
The game examines – and beautifully tells – the trials and tribulations of dealing with early-onset dementia. It’s a story told with real sensitivity and a wonderfully put-together creative narrative. We, the audience, are completely put into the same shoes as Sunita getting lost, trying to put together the pieces of her life. As the game progresses more revelations are told through moments of Sunita and her husband’s relationship, and how she came to be the woman she is now. It’s a sad tale at times, but also life-affirming and deeply moving. It’s that which is the crux of the game, the beating heart, and I think it is fantastic.
Before I Forget urges you to wear headphones when taking in the experience, and notifies that it will last just under an hour. In my initial walkthrough, it took around 40 minutes but there were a few things that were missed along the way, and so the hour seems about right. I don’t mind that the running time is so short either, but do fully understand that may worry others.
Gameplay-wise it’s all pretty simple – you walk around the house exploring, taking in the narrative as it unfolds. There are items to pick up, and some of these trigger a commentary from Sunita, whilst others signal the start of an event or change in the story. Certain sections have minor puzzle elements too. For example, in one scene Sunita remembers teaching her husband about the stars in the night sky and it is here where you are presented with a map of the stars, left to hunt down the constellations she is referring to on the map from the clues she gives. The rest of the gameplay is simple, but it’s effective because the narrative and the journey it goes on are the most important elements at play.
The visuals are lovely, utilising warm tones and allowing for a great use of animation through the memories of the past and the present world. There’s a nice touch that when Sunita enters a room the colour is saturated and almost monochrome, and as she remembers elements of her life, the colour appears everywhere like it’s being drawn from her memories. There’s also a terrifying sequence involving her memory loss and confusion; one that uses spiralling corridors that have no end and repeating newspaper articles that are glued on the wall. It works brilliantly to encapsulate the condition of the main character.
The music is beautiful as well with some great scores to underlie the emotional aspects of the game. The voice acting is tremendously performed throughout and truly captures the essence of the main lead.
Before I Forget on Xbox is an important game, mainly because of its subject matter and how it deals with a condition that can affect us all. It’s a story told with compassion and beauty and will certainly be something that sticks with you long after it has concluded. It might well be too short for some and the lack of gameplay will be an issue for others, but Before I Forget is the reason I love games. It’s all about the power they have in telling different stories.