Have you ever had a dream that is so vivid, that you feel alive in it? The world is so real that you swear that everything you touch can move. The dream-state has long been a mystery. Doctors analyse what you have seen and try to explain why it’s happening. I rarely remember any part of my sleep cycle, especially not the vivid ones. I envy those that do. Certain elements must be scary and exciting. Where will your subconscious take you next? Pillow Castle Games have developed a 3D puzzle game. It uses perspective and optical illusions as its main tools. Superliminal transports you to a dream world where thinking outside of the box is the only way to wake up.
The story opens with you watching a dream therapy program by Dr. Pierce. It’s 3am and you drift off to sleep. As you awake, you know you are in an unfamiliar place. You soon realise that the world you now exist in isn’t real, and you are stuck in a dream. You explore your new surroundings. You notice that everything is compartmentalised and represented by individual rooms. The exit of each of these boxes is locked behind “impossible” puzzles. Then you remember, in a dream, things aren’t always as they seem. Perception is your new reality, and the surrounding objects are the key to your freedom.
The premise behind Superliminal is simple, but finding the solutions is not. Manipulate items by altering their size. Combine images from afar to create new ones and find hidden paths to bend the rules. You will enter a room that at first glance appears as an empty canvas. No items, no exit, no idea of what to do. Like in Alice in Wonderland, the small details are important. Search every corner and look through every crack. The solution is right before your eyes; you haven’t seen it yet.
The game mechanic is brilliant, and the puzzles can haunt you for hours. You get frustrated, worried that you’ll never wake up. A Eureka moment, and everything clicks, problem solved! I’ll try to give you an example of how this works without giving you a solution to one of the many problems you’ll face. Here goes with a hypothetical scenario. You find yourself in a locked room where the exit is out of reach. On the floor is a tiny ramp, and a huge box. You see a small hole containing a pressure plate. What do you do? You cannot use either item in their current state. The box is too big, and the ramp is too small. As you walk away from the box, you notice it gets smaller, yet you can still interact with it. As you pick up the ramp and drop it, you notice it gets bigger. The light bulb moment, and you have your solution. Shrink the box for the pressure switch and grow the ramp to reach the exit. Some puzzles are easier, some are not. But each is ingenious in its own right.
Dreams are full of emotions, some for the better and some for the worse. Yet in Superliminal the world you explore is void of any feelings. It’s sterile and cold and reminded me of an experiment. It’s like our protagonist is taking part in Dr. Pierce’s TV program. Accompanied throughout by the words of the Doc, he is trying to “reassure” you. And the AI who barracks you for failing at your task. Even though they are your constant on this journey of madness, I didn’t feel connected to them at all. Their words were empty, and instilled no sense of fear, worry or urgency. Even when messages appeared in the objects, and on the whiteboards. I didn’t care! It mattered not if it took me an hour or 10 to complete a puzzle. It felt like there was no rush or reward. I’d have liked to see rooms falling away as time passed, or objects melting to nothing. This would have instilled emotion. Helping to represent the unstable and ever-changing nature of the dream-state.
I love the concept of the title, but it lost something in the way it delivered itself. It was disjointed and areas didn’t flow into another. I get that the developers wanted to show that the brain has lots of different sections. But they didn’t explore that idea enough for me. What I experienced was a good standard, and with a few tweaks it could hit a whole new level.
When a game experiments with optical illusions, it can make you feel uneasy. You are playing tricks on your mind, which made me feel a little queasy after a while. I had to break my game time up because of this. You may not experience this issue though. You explore the colourful world from a first-person perspective. The 3D element makes use of the whole area, and solutions need you to be aware of the surrounding scenery. Using optical illusions was well executed and was reminiscent of a trip to a fun house. Each room and dead end were well designed and complimented the game mechanics and genre. With the world shifting, I expected many visual glitches. This wasn’t the case, and it ran well.
Before I switched the game on I had convinced myself that the audio was going be clichéd. Airy dreamlike music with haunting sound effects. This wasn’t the case. A soft and calming soundtrack plays out, and mechanical noise accompanies the actions. The doctor has a warm voice. It should reassure you, but the words he delivers give the opposite impression. The AI spits its words in a forceful and robotic manner, yet it feels insipid. My expectations Vs the reality of the situation is ruining the experience for me. When you play, you’ll be able to decide for yourself.
This is a game that is very hands on. You must pick objects up, rotate, and drop them. You must move around each area, so the controls must be simple to master, and responsive. Luckily, they are. My concerns are the dropping and placing of objects. If you get this wrong, the items won’t enlarge as required, or worse, they shrink. The accuracy window is small and takes some getting used to. When you place large objects, you have little understanding of where they will land. The items are larger than your field of view, which leads to a fair bit of trial and error. That’s not what I want from a puzzle game. I want to know that I’ve solved the problem and not progressed by sheer luck.
I’ve reviewed enough puzzle games to know that it’s a genre with a low replay value. You solve the issues; the puzzles don’t alter, so the solutions will always be the same. NG+ is one way around this issue, the same story, with different problems and solutions. Or an achievement list that demands a different approach all together. Superliminal’s list requires you to complete random tasks during a playthrough. Also, the developers have asked you to complete a speedrun in under 30 minutes. That’s a tough ask. The World Record is around 23 minutes. The holder is an expert on speedrunning, so best of luck. If you attempt it, it’ll be a test of muscle and memory recall. Completion should take around 5 hours, but experienced players will be a lot quicker.
Superliminal is a title with a great premise and sound game mechanics, but with poor execution. I liked how it looks and feels, even if it made me feel ill. With solutions hidden in plain sight, it was a case of so near, but yet so far. The idea that the brain has many compartments containing unique ideas was interesting. But it wasn’t explored enough. The lack of emotion and urgency made the title safe, and the action plateaued early on. I enjoyed manipulating the world around me, and I will return to complete a speedrun. But I can’t help but feel that I wanted more. Can I recommend this? Yes. It’s a good title. However, the storyline won’t draw you back in, and don’t expect to have empathy for any of the characters. It’s a cold and sterile game that delivers its game premise well, even if it feels disjointed.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to our mailing list
Get the latest game reviews, news, features, and more straight to your inbox
Thank you for subscribing to Bonus Stage.
Something went wrong.
Gameplay - 7/10
Graphics - 6/10
Sound - 6/10
Replay Value - 6/10
Superliminal makes perspective a reality. Can you think outside of the box to solve the impossible puzzles?
- Interesting game premise.
- Colourful images with no glitches.
- The speedrun achievement adds replay value.
- The action feels disjointed.
- The game suffers from a lack of emotion.
- The controls can be clumsy.