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Superliminal Review (PC)

Perception is Reality

superliminal

I’m going to just come out and say it — any game that executes its core mechanic properly, is visually and audibly appealing, and makes me organically wax philosophical on my own life in a spiritually uplifting way is gonna get a perfect score from me.

Now to elaborate:

Superliminal, created by Pillow Castle, has been in development for the last half of this decade but is finally available on the Epic Games Store (which I downloaded specifically for this game). The dev team describes it as “a game inspired by forced perspective; by using the ambiguity of depth, this first-person puzzle game allows players to explore a surreal world by manipulating objects in physical space according to their perspective.”

I describe it as immersive, effortless fun and a chance at discovery — both in the game and of the self.

After a commercial from the fictional company “SomnaSculpt” sets the tone, promising to rid customers of their feelings of worthlessness, players are immediately dropped into a sterile environment, faced only with a piece of paper on a desk. Clicking it prompts a signature sound with no further ability to interact. Already I found myself immersed as I desperately tried to zoom in. What did I just sign? Am I going to regret that? I didn’t even read the terms and conditions!

With no further options, I pressed forward.

I found myself in more sterile rooms with objects strewn about. A woman’s voice overhead would gently guide me, reminding me that I’m in orientation for a SomnaSculpt program, as I apparently felt like I needed the company’s assistance in getting my feelings of worthlessness in check.

By completing the simple challenges in each room, I learn the controls and core mechanic of the game: WASD is movement, right click picks up items, and holding left click rotates them. It’s through this process of holding and moving that I can change my perception of an object’s size, and therefore change my reality; for example, if an enormous chess piece is blocking my path, all I must do is stand far enough away from it, pick it up, and move it closer to me. Via optical illusions, it will become smaller.

superliminal

Although most of the puzzles are intuitive, there are definitely a few that will leave you scratching your head — in these cases, it’s best to remember the phrase “perception is reality”. Chances are, the solution to the puzzle is right in front of you, and you’re just not picking up the hints left in plain sight.

Case in point, the first snag I hit early on was the very last door in the orientation room — leaving that room would allow me to begin the program proper. Unfortunately, there were no objects to weigh down the buttons (a mechanic learned throughout the level), so I appeared all but stuck…

…until it was pretty evident that there were many, many cracks in the walls, and that, through those cracks, there was an item I could interact with. Thinking I solved the issue, I put the sign on the button, only to find the door had been bricked up! As it was definitely unexpected, I sat, puzzled, for a full minute before I turned to the cracks in the wall again. I had a thought — if I can’t go through the door, maybe I go through the wall?

With no further options, I pressed forward.

At this point, the simulation started feeling a little unstable, despite the fact I was in a lovely red hotel room. That same voice overhead would plead with me to follow instructions, but I don’t see how that would be possible. A man’s voice would pop in as well to let me know I was lost and that they were trying to find me, but I couldn’t just sit tight, could I? Throughout the hallways that were really paintings and paintings that were really hallways, I solved puzzle after puzzle to try to find my way out.

It was around this part that a lot of the details really began to shine through — in the obviously “in-bounds” areas, players will hear lovely, calming music, but once they step out and go to “out of bounds” areas, the music disappears. Every time that happened, I became a little anxious, feeling like I was doing something wrong. Details like these really helped with immersion and definitely set a tense tone.

superliminal

As the levels progressed, rules were added and even changed — sometimes dice, a constant in one level, would appear as normal, while at other times would burst into smaller cubes or be cut in half. At other times, objects that you’d be able to pick up in previous levels would be part of the scenery and therefore inaccessible in newer ones, and it was up to the player to remain flexible and adapt to these new challenges in order to proceed.

With the little details already making me fairly tense, I guess I should have been prepared for the game to take a turn for the frightening, but I still didn’t see it coming — at one point, players enter a dank, dimly-lit area with a red substance on the walls and floors. A chalkboard says “Murder” over and over again, and a carefully placed mannequin head absolutely startled me. Now, I hate jumpscares, so I was definitely not prepared for the spookiness of this level — when all the lights went off in a cold hallway, with only a red light to illuminate the only exit, I felt apprehensive to say the least!

With no further options, I pressed forward.

As Superliminal progressed, I found an additional theme to add to “Perception is Reality”, and that was to keep going even if it looks like there’s no possible solution.

Doorway not opening? I duplicated it until there was an entire stack I could use to climb over the wall and to the other side.

With no further options, I pressed forward.

Alarm buzzing repeatedly? I kept hitting snooze, trying the same thing over and over again for once in this mind-bending experience and hoping for different outcomes.

With no further options, I pressed forward.

Literally nowhere else to turn? I created a space/time paradox to override the system, unsure of what would happen to me as everything faded away.

With no further options, I pressed forward.

A big, gaping hole leading into the pitch-black emptiness of eternity? I jumped into the nothingness, letting the cold dark envelop me until I was no more.

With no further options, I pressed forward.

With no further options, I pressed forward — it was something I kept coming back to repeatedly during Superliminal. I solved countless puzzles, escaped dreams within dreams, faced my fears, and bent the fabric of space and time itself, but I did it all simply because I had to do so in order to progress. Stagnation is death — moving forward is the only way to grow.

While listening to the ending speech, I realized something about myself — I may be terrified of jumpscares, but I am not afraid of failure. We all have trials and tribulations in our lives, and they shape us into the people we are today. There were so many times in my life where I hit dead ends or followed promising leads that were ultimately trap doors. I would barrel down a pathway headfirst, only to discover something blocking my way. I would sometimes leap into the unknown, with nothing to hang onto, betting against all odds that there was something there to catch me.

And in each instance, I would have to find a way to pick myself up, to reach out for assistance, or, if I couldn’t change my situation, to change my perspective. Failure had become my friend — not my fear — and I used it as a guiding force to forge a happy, healthy life.

With no further options, I pressed forward.

Superliminal is more than just a game — it’s an interactive journey of self-discovery. Not once did I feel frustrated with the controls or mechanics, only excited to learn new ways to solve problems. Should a player’s journey be wrought with frustration, I feel it betrays their fears of worthlessness, of a lack of control in their surroundings. After all, the developers left difficult — not impossible — puzzles, so the frustration one may feel while playing is truly with themselves for not meeting their own unwarranted expectations for quick success.

Those who monitor and question their own emotions while playing Superliminal have the opportunity to experience personal growth, and I strongly encourage you to go into this game with this mindset.

The first five minutes of Superliminal had me feeling like it was Portal meets P.T., but the last five minutes had me in a state of emotional tranquility. I absolutely recommend Superliminal to anyone who has critical-thinking skills, enjoys solving problems (not just puzzles), meets challenges head-on, faces their fears, and — even when things get tough — never gives up.

With no further options, always press forward.


Final Verdict: 5/5

 

Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Pillow Castle; Developer: Pillow Castle; Players: 1; Released: November 12, 2019; MSRP: $16.99

Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Superliminal given to the reviewer by the publisher.

Heather Johnson
Born at a very young age; self-made thousandaire. Recommended by 4 out of 5 people that recommend things. Covered in cat hair. Probably the best sleeper in the world. Still haven't completed the civil war quest in Skyrim but I'm kind of okay with that. Too rad to be sad.
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