Between the narration, architecture, testing framework, and shady corporate goings-on, Superliminal strikes me as a game striving to evoke titles like Portal and The Stanley Parable. Whether you’re Chell enduring GLaDOS’s blithe commentary in the midst of mortal peril or Stanley trudging through an oppressive, sprawling office building while an omniscient narrator judges and jabs, these games do a good job of throwing regular people into bizarre, oppressive situations and asking them to think their way through it. Portal engages with a series of clever, intriguing puzzles with intuitive mechanics. The Stanley Parable delights in subverting expectations and toys around with ideas of choice and intended play, inviting players to consider the metatextual implications of their actions.
Superliminal exhibits elements of both of these approaches, simultaneously subverting certain genre conventions. However, Pillow Castle’s contribution doesn’t quite manage the delectable puzzle design or incisive satirical tone of its genre predecessors. Instead, Superliminal is an enjoyable, rough, clever, and frustrating journey through the surreal vistas of human consciousness.
- What is Superliminal? It’s a first-person physics-based puzzle game. Overcome your insecurities and traverse your dreams, where perception is reality.
- Reviewed On: Windows
- Price: $16.99
- Developer: Pillow Castle
- Publisher: Pillow Castle
- Release Date: Nov 12, 2019
- Website: http://www.pillowcastlegames.com/
Superliminal makes good use of what it has. Said another way, while the art direction and puzzle design are typically high-quality, the game’s graphics and physics framework are subpar. In terms of graphical fidelity, Superliminal would not seem out of place in lineup of games made ten years ago. Textures often look quite rough, and while many environments are alive with color and interesting uses of perspective and scale, the game can’t seem to shake off a certain cheapness accompanying its visuals. The game’s controls and physics seem to share in this lack of polish.
Attempting to manipulate objects found in the dreamscapes of Superliminal is often an exercise in frustration. The puzzles and sequences in the game are generally clever and engaging, but they can be hampered by a clunky, imprecise control scheme. And this is especially annoying when the puzzles aren’t very clever or engaging.
By and large, the developers do a good job striking a balance between intuition and intrigue. That is to say, they manage to make things intuitive enough to provide a good starting point without being so simplistic that they lack anything intriguing to do. But there are several overly-simplistic puzzles, and these especially do not benefit from the framework provided by the controls and physics. Furthermore, some puzzles swing too far in the other direction.
For every puzzle where you study the screen for a few moments, contemplating, before a light comes on and you snatch up the solution, there seems to be a puzzle where basic concepts and mechanics are poorly communicated and obtuse. These puzzles I often solved with brute force, or after a long period of trial-and-error, and they felt less intricate and complicated than they felt vague and underdeveloped. Now, despite these annoyances, frustration does not permeate the entirety of Superliminal. Rather, these moments serve to hold the game back from achieving the highest level of quality and polish given its potential.
An Enlightened Perspective
Despite the game’s technical limitations, Superliminal is still enjoyable, and it’s clear that artistic passion went into its making. The graphics themselves may not impress, but the use of color, lighting, scale, and perspective all blend to create an alternately pleasant, relaxing, surreal, disturbing, bizarre, amusing dream world.
Taking a tiny building, blowing it up to humongous size, entering it and rendering your perception childlike, where objects become large again, high places once more out of reach, this is the kind of moment where Superliminal shines. Lighting, meanwhile, pulls double duty by creating some of the most striking images in the game, as well as serving as a mechanic unto itself. Several puzzles hinge on the use of lighting, which is incidentally a good way to draw attention to one of the stronger suits of the game’s visuals.
The soundtrack also helps create a quirky atmosphere, with relaxing piano music juxtaposed by increasingly worrying voiceovers. Those voiceovers, along with most pieces of writing in the game, convey two important things: a cheerful, darkly comedic tone, and the idea that perception is reality. This idea also forms the basis of Superliminal’s puzzles.
When grabbing an object, releasing it will alter its properties based on the perspective you adopted. For instance, if you hold a slice of cheese so close to your face that its edge appears just under a doorway high out of reach, releasing it will lead to a sharp increase in the room’s lactose levels. And happily, you now have a convenient ramp up to the doorway! Another mechanic involves viewing objects from different angles, adjusting until its incongruities vanish and it can properly take shape. When the object is aligned, it manifests, allowing you to interact with it. These mechanics are creative and fun, and Superliminal makes good use of them in its puzzle design.
When Superliminal delivers a well-paced, well-constructed puzzle, there’s initially a process of searching for relevant objects and the exit. Then, once all of the elements are established, problem-solving can begin. With lateral thinking and experimentation, the solution floods into your mind, and everything after that is merely putting the pieces together. These puzzles are the heart of the game’s fun, and they’re quite satisfying to solve.
Another big part of Superliminal’s appeal is the way it plays with your expectations. A tiny example of this is the loading screen, which changes often, and it tends to finish — the bar fills, it reaches 100% — only to continue past “finished.” The previously-filled bar suddenly grows a bunch of new empty space, the percentage climbs past 100 until it reaches 1000%. Cute subversions like this appear with certain mechanics as well, and it’s this kind of playfulness that earns the game a few charm points.
High Ground View
Like other elements of the game, Superliminal’s story is spirited but unexceptional. A few jokes land well, and when they do, the tone and atmosphere gel and the game feels like it’s coming into its own. However, most of the time, the dialogue evokes the irreverent, darkly-tinged humor of something like Portal without adding anything novel to the mix. When things start to wrap up, Superliminal’s experimentation with the formula involves playing with twist endings a bit.
The music and the voice acting sell the moment well enough, but there aren’t any particularly salient points, no spin or commentary that leaves you delighted, amused, or thoughtful. This felt like a microcosm of Superliminal as a whole. By the time the credits rolled, I was pleasantly satisfied with the experience. By the time they finished, well, it was on to the next thing.
Game title: Superliminal
Game description: Begin your Somnasculpt dream therapy and overcome all of those niggling doubts you’ve always had. Allow yourself to be guided by Dr. Glenn Pierce, who will help you alter your perception in order to overcome any obstacle. Undergo Orientation, solve mind-bending puzzles, and maybe grab a Dream Soda or two. Using perspective, physics, and some good old-fashioned cognition, delve into the unplumbed depths of your subconscious.
Audiovisuals - 7/10
Puzzles - 7/10
Physics & Controls - 5/10
Atmosphere - 6/10
Superliminal offers some intriguing puzzles, a few laughs, and an abiding sense of playfulness. Clunky controls, some unintuitive puzzles, and general inconsistency hold the game back from greatness, but if you have four hours (give or take) and about seventeen bucks to spend, there are certainly worse options.
- Puzzles, Perception, Perspective
- Great use of lighting, scale, color
- Laughs and clever moments
- Obtuse mechanics
- Imprecise physics, controls
- Roughshod look