Having given the PC community the joys of its unique adventure at the end of last year, Superliminal is now available on consoles and is waiting to melt your brain. Pillow Castle Games have crafted a story driven physics based puzzle game that will make Magritte art start to look sensible. It’s all about perspective, dreams and solving problems through taking a different viewpoint. We love a good narrative puzzler here at Codec Moments so this is right up our alley… or rather, down our corridor.
You’re dreaming. That’s how Superliminal sets out its stall. You’re taking part in an dream therapy programme at SomnaSculpt – an institute that helps people resolve their issues subconsciously. By immersing yourself in their structured dream world you’ll understand what’s bothering you and come to a conclusion on how to move forward. At least that’s the idea. In reality something has gone wrong and you’re stuck in the dreamscape. Being drawn to the sound of an alarm clock over and over again, forced to walk the corridors of your mind as you look for a way to escape, you’re guided by an unseen automated system and the occasional voice note from Dr. Glenn Pierce. Only you can figure out how to wake up, assuming you can get to grips with the way perspective, light and shadow work in this unreal space.
Nothing is what it seems, and none more so than the size of objects. Is it small, or is it far away? The fundamental truth of the famous statement from Father Ted to Father Dougal is thrown in the bin here. In this world objects are both close and far away at the same time depending on your perspective. A box may look like it’s in the distance and out of reach, but maybe it’s really small and just a couple of inches away. That’s what you’re dealing with in this dream world – the size of objects is based on where you put them in the space. This means children’s blocks can become steps, chess pieces blocking the exit can be shrunk out of the way, and signs can be moved and used as ramps. It’s not easy to explain without seeing it in motion, so check out the launch trailer for better representation.
Got that your head around that now? Good. Let’s start throwing in flat objects that look 3D, light and shadow being transposed, and the use of negative space. As you progress deeper into the dream and hit other levels it layers on additional mechanics to consider. It even gets paradoxical at one point forcing some real out of the box thinking to get any further. What about cloning items? Yep, it’s got that as well. All the while Superliminal adds on new mechanics it never manages to overload the choices and headscratching is kept to a minimum. Not that there aren’t a few points that might genuinely stump when you hit a puzzle that’s not had any obvious build up. It’s confident that you will know what to do with a little time spent to reflect and take it in from a new perspective.
Superliminal has a familiarity in the setup, and the comparison to Portal is the one that every first person physics puzzle game has to live with. Yes, there are rooms that act a bit like test chambers, there are behind the scenes areas to explore, and ultimately you break from the “chosen path”. There’s also the guiding robotic female voice and a feeling of dread and tension at times. The latter however is a great representation of the dreamlike quality of the game. There’s nothing that can hurt you in your dreams, but that doesn’t stop you being put on edge with the unfamiliar and bizarre. It manages to capture that real-but-just-a-bit-off feeling that lends an air of the surreal to the adventure. Don’t think that’s it’s completely random though, there is logic underpinning everything and there aren’t abstract leaps of faith needed to understand what’s happening.
Mechanically it’s impressive too. Given what it’s actually doing it’s surprising to see it all run so smoothly and watching items grow and shrink before your eyes doesn’t get old. The setting is so ordinary (at least to begin with) that it actually evokes a feeling of wonder at what you’re seeing… and a little bit of disbelief. Portals do actually get involved at one point and coupling those with growing and shrinking had me playing for ages to see how small I could get. It’s a testament to the visual and audio design that the gameplay comes so naturally with what could have been a really complex concept to get across. The main downside is that it is short – 3 hours to finish roughly – and loses a little of the great perspective use in the latter stages. There are collectables and secrets to go hunting for though, so chapter select adds in some longevity. For the rapid thinking players there’s a trophy for finishing in under 30 mins. Good luck with that!
A short and sweet unique mechanic that doesn’t outstay its welcome? Sign us up! Superliminal plays with light, space and shapes brilliantly and impresses with its ingenuity. It’ll baffle some, and confound others, but fans of this genre shouldn’t miss out on the most interesting spacial mechanic I’ve seen since Etherborn. Just don’t start dreaming about it.
A PS4 copy of Superliminal was provided by Pillow Castle Games PR team and the game is available now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One for around £15.99.