The first-person puzzle game, Superliminal has finally hit stores. This is the first game created by developers Pillow Castle and it’s safe to say it’s a very promising start. Superliminal openly takes inspiration from first-person puzzle games before it, it takes all the best bits and bundles them all together into a tight new experience. The game uses perception and depth as its core mechanic, in which puzzles need to be solved with a “New Perspective”. To explain this in a little more detail: In real life an item that might be small on a table, but when you lift it in your hand, hold in the air and compare it against the background, it will appear big. In Superliminal, if you drop this item, then based on how it compares to the background, determines its size and weight. It is a difficult concept to explain on paper, but when you play the game, you quickly adjust your mindset. Although, this brings up the key question: "Is Superliminal a game that stands out from the crowd, or does it fall into the ever-growing pit of other indie puzzle games?" Read our review below to find out.
I will open this line up with saying, Superliminal is one of the most fun games of its genre, that I have played to date. The game does an incredible job of keeping its mechanics simple and building on them more and more as you progress throughout the game. The game sticks to its own niche and owns it. The game never strays from its simple concept of “taking a new perspective, to solve a problem”. Too often have I seen games like this, try to be over-ambitious, and end up over-complicating the game to the point where it stops being fun.
The game is presented in a very similar fashion to Portal, in that the game travels you through room, after room presenting you with a new puzzle, and several ways to solving it. Although, this changes up as you go through the game and eventually presents you with bigger rooms, and some other secrets that I don’t want to spoil. But the real key here is something I mentioned a moment ago – Multiple ways to complete a task. Due to the nature of this, there are also many secrets and collectibles that you can uncover. By thinking “even more out of the box” you can stumble across little secret areas that normally contain one of the many collectibles of the game. As an example, instead of pressing a button to open a door in a wall, you might opt to manipulate an object and climb over the wall. This is a mechanic that I absolutely love. I love to try and do things to break games, I constantly glitch games due to it. With Superliminal, I felt like the game was begging me to do it and rewarding me for it.
The controls for Superliminal are simple, you only have Jump, Grab, and Drop buttons. Usually, when games do this, it feels incredibly restricting and draws away from the overall experience. Although, in this title, this is not the case. Pillow Castle has done so much of a good job smoothing out the gameplay that it feels like this is all I need to journey through the narrative.
I’d say that the only area that let down the gameplay for me in Superliminal was that sometimes I could break the game a little too much, which required me to restart my checkpoint. Not a major thing as checkpoints in this game are incredibly well thought out. But an example is, there is a room at one point with a bouncy castle. If you travel through the bouncy castle door, you end up at the top of the room, in a miniature version. Well, I kept getting through the door, till I was so small that moving to a small area would take hours. I just figured if I got small enough, I might have been able to get through a vent or something.
Superliminal boasts a vibrant 3D realm for you navigate through and takes a remarkably similar visual pallet from games like Bioshock Infinite and Portal. Although, it does not quite achieve graphics as impressive, although that is not to say there are not Impressive elements.
One of the things I would say Superliminal impressed me most with, was when it focused on its visual tricks with perspective. Items that you manipulate your perspective on, would impressively cease to be in your hand and would drop into the background, seamlessly. The game does some incredible tricks in which when you drop some items, they would become a 2D optical illusion on the floor, and again, it would be seamless. Every time this would catch me off-guard and have me spamming my pickup button, only to find out the object had done this. I find it incredible that an indie team was able to achieve these extraordinarily complex transitions, so well! Visually, the game also exhibits a nice bloom effect, which compliments the incredibly vibrant colour pallet.
Although, I would say that this game has opportunity for improvement. At times when traveling through the puzzle areas, I found the odd texture that looks a little bit flat. But my biggest frustration was when I had been using the mechanics to try and explore a little further than normal. I noticed some invisible walls within the game, that feel like missed opportunities for more secrets or collectibles. For example, there was a point in the game where I could shrink my character down, and the room I had been in before was a locker room. So, I thought to myself, maybe there is a hidden item underneath the lockers in the locker room. I shrank down, traveled quite a distance back to find that you could not get under the lockers due to being covered by an invisible wall. Considering how free the rest of the game was, it just felt strange to miss such a good exploration opportunity. Finally, on consoles the game seems to averagely run at about 30fps, which considering the games with similar graphics to this entry can run easily at 60fps on the standard consoles version, I would assume the Xbox One X or the PS4Pro would easily handle this at 60fps if optimised well.
Although none of the constructive points above ever break the immersion or make the game any less great than what is made up to be, in the gameplay.
The story for Superliminal is something that surprised me. The game is narrated by several characters, although initially, it starts off with an AI that is less than caring but ultimately ends with a plethora of different cast members that will be guiding you through your journey. In games like this, I think its important to have a story with a greater context, but I like to have to think about it and learn what the story is. If you add a really detailed complex story that’s given to you in a narrative that you see in action shooters. Then It would distract from the calm, but hectic gameplay. Pillow Castles's use of soft narrative really compliments the game that they have built. The voice acting is of great quality, which is unusual for games like this. But its only further credit to the hard work that Pillow Castle has put in.
To give some context to the story, in Superliminal you are a “person” who has been put into a scientific experiment, based around dreams. You start off by agreeing to the experiment and ultimately are then sent through rigorous testing to change your perspective and solve problems. Initially I found myself constantly comparing this title to Portal, which concerned me as I didn’t want Superliminal to just become simply another clone. But as the game presses you on, you learn how different this game is. I would say that it is heavily inspired by Portal, but its so much more than just a clone, it feels like a nod to the game but ultimately manages to have its own identity.
Superliminal has only a few voices in the game, due to the nature of its story. But considering the size of the game, it feels like the rich cast was exactly right. The voice acting is incredibly impressive with voices that blend in with the world and suit the characters being portrayed. It is clear that Pillow Castle has really spent time on getting this perfect.
The game features a lot of subtle sound cues to inform you of how well you are doing. For example, it’s the little things like, if you press a switch, you’ll hear a door open, or if you drop an item over the top of a wall, you’ll hear a huge thud as the “now big” item hits the floor. This moves me onto my next point on this game, the sound changes of items. In Superliminal, you are going to experiment with many different concepts, and one of these is changing the size of items. What impresses me most about the audio of this game is how much thought has gone into how the size of an object, changes its sounds. From dropping a small wooden block, making a tiny thud sound when you drop it, through to a huge building-sized block making a crashing sound as you drop it from a hight. Another impressive example of this attention to detail was when I was given the opportunity to adjust the size of a ringing alarm. When I shrunk the item down, its pitch changed to a tiny ringing, whereas when the item was big, it produces much more of a roar type ringing.
Finally, Superliminal boasts a classical soundtrack in which depending on the mood it wants to set, determines the type of music you want to hear. The game mostly has a relaxing slow-paced theme around it but does a good job of changing up the ambiance and backing tracks to ensure that the feeling of tension is raised.
Overall Superliminal sits as one of my favorite First-Person puzzle game experiences. It tested me enough to pose a challenge, but it never became frustrating or infuriating. The game is about 5-6 hours if you are going slow, but apparently can be done in 30 minutes if you memorise everything. The game has good replayability for those who want to discover more about the world and search every nook and cranny for its secrets. The voice acting and audio of the game is done very well, and other than some slight graphical hiccups and 30fps, the game is overall an exceptionally good game. At the cheap price of £15.99 at launch, I would suggest that anyone who is interested, picks up this little gem of a game.