September 18, 2017

Subsurface Circular Review: Buy or Skip?

Graphics

From the initial load of Subsurface, Bithell Games throws an aesthetic at you, that very decisively puts you into a near future earth setting. You’re inside of a subway car for the entirety of the game, and most of us have ridden in a subway car – you know the setting. But there is enough done here with palette choices and lighting that instantly lets you know and not forget that we are in the future, we are in a place that you haven’t necessarily been before. All of the characters that you meet in the game are Tek’s, humanoid robots who have been created no facial features. Their design feels very crisp and clean – a design choice that makes you feel like the future isn’t all that bad. If things are looking good down here the human world has got to be doing great. Although the game’s characters have no facial features, the artists are Bithell Games have done a fantastic job at giving them their own distinctive personalities through color choices and facial silhouettes. You know you’re talking to a masculine soldier Tek by his created thick jawline of metal.

UI choices in this game are very intuitive and clean. In the developer commentary, they tell you they used the New York transit system, and Star Trek as design inspirations and you can definitely feel it. In a game that is played through it’s UI nothing feels confusing, stale or out of place. The UI has a muted palette which allows it to feel comfortable throughout.

Graphics in this game overwhelming accomplish everything I think the developer was trying to accomplish and it felt really good.

 

Sound

Right from the start of this game the soundtrack is a success. The initial tones you experience as the game open’s put you in a world that feels futuristic and subterranean. This is an electronic soundtrack from Dan le Sac, that is always driving and mixing in new elements. The soundtrack for the game keeps the amount of reading and puzzle solving in this game feel urgent and continually more important. Every scene in this game is intro’ed with a new track for that segment of the game and always feel fitting to the story inside of these scenes.

 

All other sounds in this game serve it as not standing out. When doors open or Tek’s walk, it sounds how you think it should and makes the future setting feel more believable.

 

Gameplay

 

There will be a barrier to entry to this game with many gamers. At its core, this is a text-based adventure and not anything else. The game works as a series of questions and answers with the occasional puzzle thrown in. As you talk to other Tek’s, your character will find out new information – creating new focal points. These focal points serve as questions that you can ask to every Tek sitting in your subway cart. Finding out new information from multiple Tek’s is often the only way to move the story forward.

 

Puzzle’s in this game serves as a way to break up long segments of conversations but are also text-based puzzles. While never too difficult,   there aren’t any that you will be able to shoot straight through unless you’re some kinda Mensa wiz.

 

The team at Bithell Games poured a lot of heart and resources into the graphics and animations of this game, but none of is used to serve the actual gameplay mechanics. It’s somewhat difficult for me to score the genre of text-based adventures. I simply don’t play enough of them to feel informed. For all I know this could truly be a is a high water mark for the genre. But, I don’t know; I do know that I enjoyed this game immensely. I played through it all in one sitting and never became once bored with it or thought about playing a faster more action like game. If that’s the judgment I use to for how this game fairs in its own genre then to me it’s an overwhelming success – one that I think escapes the text-based adventure crowd and should be played by any gamer who is looking for a meaningful experience.

 

Story

From the moment the first Tek sits across from you inside of the Subsurface Circular, Mike Bithell wants to tell you a story where even the smallest details deserve respect. Every Tek in this game has been placed beside you for a reason. Every conversation and text tree lead you to new information that informs your opinions on your case and the world this game is set in.

 

One of the hardest things that a writer can take on is making you feel for and care about a character in a story. Bithell compounded this problem onto himself by writing a game around robots, ones that don’t even have a face for you to connect with.  There is so much room to fail here, for this game to be completely flat in the narrative, but it’s not – it’s the opposite. By the end of the third scene of this game, I was hooked into the world and kept wanting to push deeper into the mystery that is laying out in front of me. Relationships between Tek’s and Human being to be an allegory for class struggles. Bithell skates real-world social commentary and it all brings you to a more emotional connection with these faceless robots in a fictional world.

 

The story in Subsurface Circular is its greatest strength and my main talking point when I bring the game up to friends.

 

Replayability

 

The one thing that this game does not necessarily line up within my review criteria is replayability; I don’t think that it’s meant to be. The game definitely at feels as if you are reading an interactive book. You can make small dialogue choices here and there but as a whole nothing you do will really affect where this story is heading. Bithell Games knew what they were doing when they priced this game at $5.99 – they had a story to tell, built a great setting around it, and that’s all it is meant to be.

 

One point of replayability that comes from a fairly deep developer commentary from Mike Bithell after a completion of the game. While I haven’t gone through another playthrough of the game to see all of it, the first scene’s commentary does feel very informative and worth another playthrough down the road.  

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