Superliminal and I have some interesting history.
5 years ago there was a video of a perspective based game doing the rounds, one that many people regarded as being the next evolution in games after Portal. There were even rumours that the game which gave rise to the demo was actually playable however looking at the developer’s website no one could find a link to it anymore. So, like the good Internet citizen that I am, I started digging around and eventually uncovered the still active link that the developer had hidden. Not wanting to blow up their server (which is what I assumed the reason was for hiding it) I downloaded and rehosted it on this very blog, telling a few people on reddit about it so they could have a crack at it. Little did I know that, from that point on, I’d become the single source of the demo the world over.
Fast forward a couple years and, for reasons I can’t remember, I was looking for that link again and started Googling my own site to find it. Curiously though I started to find references to it everywhere, some even on YouTube videos that had racked up millions of views. Now I never really noticed anything on my end, my hosting is all done elsewhere and the bandwidth consumed was never that large. I did feel a little miffed though, figuring they could’ve at least given me a shoutout. I have however since learned that the devs said that they’d prefer people don’t play that one anymore, given how far their actual game, Superliminal, has come in the interim.
For what it’s worth guys, apologies if I’ve caused you anything untowards for rehosting it. Because honestly they’re right, Superliminal is far and away the better game.
As you fall asleep with the TV on at 3AM, you remember catching a glimpse of the commercial from Dr.Pierce’s Somnasculpt dream therapy program. By the time you open your eyes, you’re already dreaming – beginning the first stages of this experimental program. This is a world where perception is reality, where how you view things is just as important as how you interact with them. The puzzles put before you are meant to reframe how you perceive the world around you, forcing you to think of different perspectives that you might not otherwise consider until you were forced to confront them.
Visually Superliminal has a very standard Unity feel to it with many of the assets looking like they came from store packs. There’s nothing wrong with this, just that everything has this kind of bland feel to them with their unoffensive, basic construction. No doubt part of this is to try and combat some of the rather severe performance issues the game suffers from, most likely due to the intense calculations required for some of the game’s more unique mechanics. The level design is good however with the run of the mill assets turned into visual marvels through the incredibly inventive use of perspective, quite often getting a good chuckle out of me for how they’d managed to twist my own view of their world against me. I guess you could call it more of a cerebral experience than a visual one.
When the team from Pillow Castle Games first demonstrated the idea it was definitely an unique one; the idea that your perspective of objects influenced their size in the real world. Funnily enough this isn’t the first game I’ve played that has this mechanic, the other being the absolute horrorshow of a game that was Elementium. However the perspective mechanic isn’t just limited to objects that you interact with, it extends to numerous parts of the world, often parts that you wouldn’t expect. The devs have gone to great lengths to create visuals that on the surface look one way but are completely different when viewed up close or from a different perspective. For someone who’s played enough of these kinds of games it’s rare for me to be surprised by perspective tricks like this but Superliminal managed to do it often, even right up until its final moments.
The puzzles built around this mechanic are mostly simple endeavours, mostly focused on being in a single room with a few tools at your disposal to find your way out again. They’re made somewhat easier by the fact that objects you interact with, which therefore have some kind of special property associated with them, are very limited in any one space. There’s no puzzles that require you to bring in objects from previous areas or any other kind of non-linear puzzle mechanic that will spin you out. There are a couple where the mechanic isn’t well introduced and can lead to some horrendous confusion if you can’t figure out the logic path but nothing that’s more than a video or two away from realigning your internal logic compass back to the developer’s.
The game does have quite a few rough edges though, most of which I think are due to the novel nature of the mechanics which introduce all sorts of wacky edge cases that are going to be hard to come across in internal playtesting. The performance issues are something I didn’t expect, even on my now older rig, and I’m sure it’s to do with some objects getting their perspective calculated when the player isn’t interacting with them. Indeed the performance issue disappeared completely in sections where there were little or no objects to interact with. The game’s implementation of portals and other teleport mechanics is a little janky, freaking out in the weirdest circumstances and sometimes sending you right through the world. Strangely Superliminal also suffers from the same issue Elementium did, whereby some objects continue to scale themselves when they’re outside your vision. I don’t doubt that this is due in part to the object being flagged as “interactive” when you pick it up and that flag isn’t turned off until it stops moving. You can also completely ruin certain puzzles if you’re not careful, either making objects too small to interact with or just straight up putting them somewhere you will never be able to reach. Most of these problems are just a checkpoint restart away from being fixed but just be warned that there’s still a lot of rough edges to be found here.
MINOR PLOT SPOILERS BELOW
The story spends an awful lot of time in the standard “subject trapped in a mad scientist’s experiment” trope that was made popular by Portal all those years ago. Indeed that’s one of the game’s most distracting features as you feel like you’re playing with a B-grade GLaDOS and the plot reveals itself in a rather predictable way. That changes right in the game’s final stages though when the main narrator begins to talk to you directly about why the experience was crafted that way. In a way it’s a subtle play on the game itself, setting you up with a perception that’s influenced by your biases and then flipping it on it’s head in order to give you a new perspective. Up until that point I was pretty much settled on Superliminal being a “good but not great” kind of game but it really won me over in those final moments.
PLOT SPOILERS OVER
Superliminal brings with it a new breed of game play that’s sure to have its share of imitators from here on out. The perspective mechanics are numerous, each of them playing on how we perceive things in order demonstrate how that can be twisted in fun and interesting ways. Even with it’s rather long development cycle though there’s still a lot of rough edges to be found, although I’m sure that over the coming months many of these issues will be stamped out. The story, in its summation, is a beautiful meta-commentary on itself and it’s final moments round out the game perfectly. I honestly can’t wait to see where Pillow Castle Games goes to from here.
Superliminal is available on the PC right now for $19.99. Total play time was approximately 2.5 hours.