Developer: Pillow Castle
Publisher: Pillow Castle
Music: Matt Christensen
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Released: November 12, 2019 (Windows), July 7, 2020 (Others)
Genre: First Person Puzzle
Are you filled with feelings of self-doubt? Do you find yourself prone to minimizing massive dilemmas or for allowing the smallest problems to get blown completely out of proportion? At the Pierce Institute, our patent-pending SomnaSculpt technology provides safe and effective dream therapy while you rest in the comfort of our flagship clinic.
SomnaSculpt: We’ll make your dreams come true!
A first-person puzzle game, you play as a client experiencing dream therapy. Many are familiar with ‘dream logic’, where impossible things happen, strange rules are accepted, and you just don’t really know what could happen next. Superliminal is like that.
Doors appear and disappear. Objects can appear flat, but become 3D with just the right angle. Big objects become small, and vice versa. It’s a topsy turvy world, and within it you must solve puzzles in order to progress, with the friendly voice of Glenn Pierce reassuring you, and the less-friendly robotic voice of the orientation system coaching you, to guide the way. The environment is clinical, but friendly. Safe, interesting, and just a little bit silly.
Until… something goes wrong. And you find yourself solving puzzles not just to progress, but to escape, with the dream becoming more and more confusing, erratic, with the still-calm voice of Glenn Pierce trying to help you, but it comes with a sense of someone trying to keep a level-head while things go very, very wrong.
The main mechanic of the game is the utilisation of ‘forced perspective’. Real life examples include when people take photos of themselves with the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background, staged in such a way that it looks like they’re holding it up.
In Superliminal, that is turned up to 11. If you pick up or place an object further away from yourself, it becomes bigger. If you move it closer, it becomes smaller. With this you can create platforms to climb up on, enter toy-like buildings, or even shrink yourself down, and vice versa.
You’ll find objects painted in perspective, or in pieces, and you have to align yourself just so in order to bring that object to life. Floors won’t exist unless you put something on it, sometimes objects will duplicate instead of being moved or manipulated. I had a particularly challenging time in a room with a giant apple. The game teaches you to look around, literally change your perspective, and knowing that you must solve each puzzle. Some are a bit easier than others, there’s a few rooms where I found myself walking around in circles, trying to find the moment when the solution would just click.
But sometimes I would have a literal headache, trying everything I could think of, wandering around, hoping for the solution to reveal itself. A couple of times I would solve it by accident, with a sense of ‘oh… that was it?’.
It is mindboggingly clever how they managed to execute these mechanics, and for the first few minutes I just played around, marvelling at it and all its possibilities. And for the most part it was utilized in really fun and clever ways. I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the game, into the dream, as things got more and more twisted, unpredictable, progressing and finding a way forward somehow while feeling like the ground I stood on was about to fall beneath me at any moment, like the crumbling edge of a cliff.
The auditory experience was at odds with the erratic world I was experiencing, but it kept me grounded. The music was relaxing, clinical, like something you would hear in the waiting room at the dentist. It was understated, easy to tune out, but it always reminded me that I, the player, was definitely within a clinic at all times. Trapped within dream therapy. That relaxing jazz music felt quite sinister as the game progressed.
In addition, there are sounds specifically for giving you a sense of scale. You’ll hear a cute little boop sound when you pick up or drop objects, however you’ll realise just how gigantic you made the object as the sound of it falling fills the room. It’s not when it hits the ground, it’s when it’s falling through the air. What does that sound like? Like a big thing falling.
I enjoyed playing Superliminal, it was a lot of fun, with a lovely, consistent artstyle that ties everything together, an impressive feat as you see how lighting, tone, and setting changes throughout the game. The usage of forced perspective as a mechanic is fascinating, and unique. I love unique, when it’s executed well. It didn’t hold my hand, the game already told me everything I needed to know to solve these puzzles. I started off curious and excited to even more curious and nervous when the tone of the game shifted.
But it felt like there could’ve been more. More depth, more symbolism, more story. It felt anti-climatic. But thinking on it further, the ending wasn’t bad, and I liked the message it presented. I finished the game feeling cheated. It’s all just a dream, right? But…I’ve been thinking, does that make the dream unimportant?
Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 5th of August 2020