Puzzle games are great because of the way it plays with your expectations. Often, you think a solution is going to work, you try it out, and it doesn’t work. Other times, you may end up seeing the goal and you know where to go – but you need to work around as to how you get there. Lots of puzzle games are really mindboggling and you have to kind of bend your own logic to make way for the game’s logic and I feel as if the moment of figuring out that solution is one of the most satisfying things in these games. A game that does that somewhat well but struggles on a technical level is Superliminal, which we’re going to review today!
Developer: Pillow Castle Publisher: Pillow Castle Genre: First-Person, Puzzle, Adventure, Indie Release Date: November 5th, 2020 Reviewed on: PC Availble on: PC (Win, Lin, Mac), XB1, PS4, Switch Copy was purchased through Humble Choice.
Superliminal is a first-person puzzle game that plays with optical illusions and forced perspective. The concepts of projection and deception are what drive the game and it’s incredibly interesting in how the game works. Pick up a chess piece, for instance, and drop it off a little further and it grows in size due to the perspective it has relative to you. It’s weird and makes your brain tingle! I like that! The story puts you into Dr Pierce’s Somnasculpt dream therapy program and while it’s an interesting concept I’m not quite sure what the goal of the therapy program is… but it certainly is an interesting setting. In a dream, after all, everything is possible. Dr Glenn Pierce guides you through your journey and tries his questionable best to help you out of the dreamscape… but his AI assistant is just confused as to how you got here in the first place.
The key mechanic of Superliminal is the idea of tampering with your surroundings through perspective. Make stuff bigger, make stuff smaller, move it around, that sort of stuff! Sadly, this is limited to only some objects indicated by your reticle changing – and usually, you get to grab doors and other objects but sadly not without issues. The idea of the game is great and lots of the puzzles are fun, but not all. At times, I couldn’t find the right angle to get over a hurdle or I’d chug this huge brick at a wall over and over again, hoping it would fall over in the right spot but it didn’t. This was frustrating at times and made me question whether there was a better way to do it… but it was the intended way and there didn’t seem to be another solution at hand. When I got over it, I tried to grab a soda can and carry it through to the next game, in a similar fashion to the dwarf in Half-Life. But you can’t do that. Like in Portal, rooms are segmented and you cannot bring stuff over to the next area. It’s a bit annoying but I guess it makes sense that you can’t just break the game by bringing over the door you found before. Another time, I resized this rubber duck but couldn’t quite make the jump and it was just annoying, really, so I had to improvise.
While those instances of frustration may be few, they are certainly enough to ruin your day. In one room, I struggled for a solution for a rather long time, before eventually just looking it up. In another one, the game didn’t really give me enough clues as to how to proceed. Yes, I know, the game shouldn’t just give me the answer but in those cases, I was left with the status quo and the status quo alone. I didn’t know where to go or what to do and the fact that this isn’t a sandbox game made it hard for me to improvise. If it was a sandbox game, after all, I’d be able to grab just anything and resize it, right? And what also doesn’t work is the story. The game repeatedly tries to make you feel alarmed and concerned but it fails to connect on an emotional level, leaving me bored. I went along because most of the puzzles were neat but the characters that we get to know, Dr Glenn Pierce and the AI, are just so distanced from you that it feels as if they were added at the end. It’s almost as if the developers felt the need to add the story to the game but didn’t plan out the game with a story in mind, and that kinda sucks. It doesn’t ruin the experience but I couldn’t help but feel annoyed by Dr Glenn Pierce’s remarks or the way that the story eventually felt so illogical and out of touch… I didn’t like that at all.
Yes, I know, it’s a small Indie studio but I found it at times just so badly blended together that I was wondering why I played the game in the first place. Are some of the solutions that I found satisfying enough to make up for the frustrating technical bits? Yeah, probably! But I feel like the studio has to sort out its priorities. Instead of fixing those technical issues and adding quality-of-life improvements, they added a multiplayer mode to the game that I didn’t get to try out just yet… and yes, the soundtrack and the presentation are great but I found it a bit too frustrating at times, almost wanting to quit the game completely. It’s annoying because I really want to like this game… but I cannot really recommend Superliminal all that much because of the way it doesn’t quite work enough for me to care about the story… and because of the way, some puzzles work. But… before I end this, I’d recommend checking out Neko’s review over at arpegi as his review features other opinions on the game.