Developer: Pillow Castle
I hope everyone is holding up okay during this very stressful and unusual time. Weirdly enough, things I thought I would accomplish by being home more often have just slowed down instead. Part of it is the type of brain-fog that comes with being stuck indoors inundated with bad news, and part of it spending a good part of my day on my island in Animal Crossing. Luckily, I started playing Superliminal well before this weird period of time, and I just had the chance to finish it off a few days ago just in time for this week's review. Superliminal is a first-person puzzle adventure game where you use depth and perspective to create and alter the world around you. Superliminal is has some incredibly twisty and fun puzzle-solving that challenges the way you use perspective, although the narrative turns out to be fairly generic.
You start Superliminal in a strange 3:00AM dream state as a test subject in Dr. Pierce's Somnasculpt dream therapy program. Superliminal guides you through the world much like Portal, with a voice telling you what you should or shouldn't do in this world, although you press on forward regardless of the voice. When you interact with items, you can change their size by using the power of perspective. A small chess piece becomes a giant one when you drop it far away from you. It's a simple enough concept, but as you continue through different puzzles the mechanics you use get increasingly mind-bending and unexpected. You initially just use the size of objects to manipulate the puzzle challenges, then you have to go further, using placement and perspective to create doors and solutions that didn't previously exist. Figuring out certain puzzles feels incredibly satisfying, as you have to be patient and look at the room from every angle - literally.
At some point, the guiding voice tells you that you should stop what you're doing and turn back. You're told that you're exceeding the limitations of this dream state. As you keep traveling on further, the world starts to turn dark and ominous. The environment, too, seems to be telling you to turn back. Superliminal plays some tricks on your mind, at some points it really feels like a horror game. There was only one moment that I'd call a jump scare, but well before that and after that I was very on edge. The environment does a tricky back and forth where it'll present something that seems dangerous, then when you get close you see that it's not really a threat after all. A small example of this that actually made me laugh is displayed in the images below - I hesitated for a while before walking into a room that said "DIE DIE DIE", only to find this when I got closer. Superliminal manages to use perspective to trick you not only in terms of physical objects, but also in terms of misleading you to misguided conclusion.
My favorite thing about Superliminal is just how fun it is to use it as a playground. Many times I ignored the task at hand and instead used the game mechanics to multiply objects endlessly, or making them huge for no reason. More than once, I found myself trapped under a giant block of cheese or apple because I was seeing if I could. Certain stages allowed you use these big objects to tear down walls and knock everything over, which was excellent. The game actually handled all of these shenanigans pretty well - it didn't slow down when I pushed the limits. I only wish that you could interact with more objects. Most of the time, there was only one or two objects in a room that you could actually manipulate. I know it would've added a lot of challenge, but I'd really enjoy a game where you could do more with every object in the room. A concept this unique and entertaining would be amazing in a sandbox type of game.
Superliminal has a simplistic but realistic graphical style, most items aren't incredibly detailed but often times you do find whiteboards full of realistic-looking notes that you can stop inspect closely. There's other small signs and notes here and there that inform you more about the strange world you're in, and often times are appropriately ridiculous and fitting of a dream-world. The soundtrack is soft and jazzy, somewhat like elevator music, although often times depending on the stage it gets becomes very quiet. The music wasn't really the focus, but some of those very quiet stages felt unnecessarily ominous.
Superliminal is genuinely a lot of fun for anyone who enjoys walking simulators and puzzles. I think there's definitely similar games out there in terms of its environment and narrative, but it stands apart in the way you interact with the space. It's never incredibly challenging, but it really does require you to step back and observe the entire space. The narrative and details are charming and funny as well, but the conclusion of the game's events feels like it could have accumulated to more. I played this game at the same time I played Control and actually like a lot of the same things about the two, except I'd say Superliminal has a better way of playing with physics and playing tricks on your mind.
Superliminal is available on PC.
Played on: PC Finished: 3/31/2020 Playtime: 4 hrs