Superliminal Review: Beautiful

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*DISCLOSURE: THIS GAME WAS PROVIDED TO US BY PILLOW CASTLE FOR THE PURPOSES OF REVIEW*

I normally title my reviews with a pun or something pithy but to do that with Superliminal felt wrong in some way. Like calling the Mona Lisa the Moaner Lisa then adding a winky face. It would feel disrespectful of the product.

If it wasn’t obvious by that opening I really enjoyed Superliminal. There’s going to be a lot of comparisons to Portal across the review scape and honestly, personally, I think to do so is to have such a shallow understanding of the game to the point that you might as well not bother reviewing it at all.

Superliminal is a puzzle game at its core. You’re dropped into the game’s world with little more than the information than you’re in a dream for the purposes of therapy and to get over your anxiety. While the game is very comedic at times, like Portal, and the puzzles are very much about thinking in a different way to puzzles, like Portal, there is a deeper experience to be had in Superliminal if you allow yourself to be absorbed into the game world. However, I can’t truly explain what that experience is without spoiling said experience in some small or even large way.

So how shall I get around that? Well, I will simply say a few things. The first is that I shed a single tear during Superliminal. And that Superliminal has a moral. Most stories have a moral but it’s rare that it’s the core experience. Mass Effect has the moral that petty politics shouldn’t get in the way of a greater threat but you aren’t sat there at the end credits thinking “Oh gee, I feel like I’ve truly learned something about myself from playing that game.” You’re mostly thinking that Garrus was really cool and you wish Wrex was your best friend.

Image credit: (Pillow Castle)

So to actually talk about the gameplay of this video game it’s pretty spot-on for puzzling. Each puzzle is relatively short and simple and only gets difficult if you think too much about it. Your first instinct is usually correct even if that seems impossible. If there’s a button in the centre of the room and a locked door; your first instinct is to plop something down on that button and allow the door to be open. But then you notice there’s nothing to pick up in the room. Were you wrong? Or did you just need to shift your perspective in a way that some paint on a pillar and a distant wall match up to create a block that you can grab out of seemingly thin air?

I would love to have a look at how complex the coding is for this game because the thing it manages to do is pretty incredible for a triple-A game let alone a small indie studio. If you pick up an object it will change size depending on where you are looking while holding the object. If you walk up close to a wall and let go the object will become tiny. If you hold it up to the ceiling and let go it will fall from the point it would be in the room based on the original size of the object. Again this is where the comparisons to Portal come in.

The core mechanic of this game is one we’ve not seen working so seamlessly before. We’ve seen portals before but never in a way that we can jump in and out of them without any form of loading and also see ourselves from a different perspective within the room. By that same measure, we’ve seen games that are about altering your perspective via spacial manipulation before but they’ve usually involved a loading screen or brief lag in the game while the engine catches up with what you’ve just done.

Image credit: (Pillow Castle)

The puzzles rarely stay beyond their welcome. There was one puzzle that was about cloning objects rather than physically moving them that went on a little too long and felt like I had just brute forced the solution rather than actually solved it in a way the developers wanted me to but other than that I had a blast.

The game also features a computerised guide and recordings of a man named Dr Glenn Pierce. These serve as the comedic flavour of the game but as you play through the game you realise that these dialogues serve a greater purpose than making you the player laugh. Again I won’t spoil it because it’s part of the fun learning what’s really going on.

For the complex actions, the game is undertaking it runs as smooth as butter. In fact, even if it was just doing normal things this game runs perfectly. I never had a single glitch or hiccup in the game’s performance. However! There was one puzzle were I did soft-lock myself a little and had to restart from a checkpoint. Every other puzzle seemed doable no matter how hard you tried to break it whereas this one puzzle only took one wrong move that resulted in me walking around rooms I’d already been in but at the size of a pea, thinking there was some kind of mouse hole or some such I needed to find.

When you are that small you also move through levels much much MUCH slower so you can see where my frustration came in. But that’s all part of the changing your perspective ethos of this game. It doesn’t want you to think outside the box, it wants you to use the box as a jet engine and send yourself into the stratosphere to look at the puzzle from space, then pick up the puzzle now that it’s so small and use it to play intergalactic ping pong with your own consciousness.

Image credit: (Pillow Castle)

The game took me around two hours and the replayability comes in seeing just how much quicker you can beat the game. There is an achievement for beating the game in under 30 minutes. How you manage that I don’t know considering I thought I was moving at quite a clip for most of the game.

Superliminal is available on Steam for £15.49 and is well worth the price of entry. I can whole heartedly say this is a game I’m going to be coming back to over the years just to experience it again and again.

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