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Perspective is Reality in Superliminal

Puzzle games are notorious for twisting and stretching the ways people see the world, flipping what they know about things on the edge over and over. So when I heard there was a new puzzle game similar to Portal and Portal 2, I had to dive in. Superliminal plays with perspective and the way you look at things, creating really interesting puzzles, so let’s not waste any time and get right into it.

Superliminal
Photos courtesy of Pillow Castle Games, Unity, and designer Albert Shih

Released for PC in November 2019 by Pillow Castle Games, Superliminal leans hard into its creative gameplay loop of forced perspective and optical illusions to create various puzzles out of the environment and surroundings. While hard to put into words, the crux of the gameplay is the player’s ability to manipulate the size and scale of objects, depending on the angle with which it’s viewed. A waist-high cube held up at arm’s length will become a huge box you can platform across, and an apple observed closely will appear to be much smaller than it was before. Mundane hallways are revealed to be painted to give an illusion of a dead end when instead they turn, and corridors loop back on themselves to give an illusion of choice. So far, the game reminds me a lot of The Stanley Parable combined with the puzzle and platforming aspects of the Portal series. It’s the right level of brainteaser physics and perspective-skewing to really engage people with good spatial recognition, providing an interesting challenge. 

However, compared to the strong characters of GLaDOS from Portal and the Narrator from The Stanley Parable, there’s not really a strong voice or personality behind the two voices we interact with in Superliminal. The predominant personality we interact with is Dr. Glenn Pierce, along with a more generic AI guide, who speaks to the player intermittently, through radios on various levels, explaining that the player has gone off-track and that the researchers have lost track of them through the dreamscape. With the occasional weak assurance that they’re ‘working on it’ and that the player is well-and-truly lost, everything that the Doctor and his AI say feels inconsequential and untethered from anything we know in the game. The story feels like a thin wrapper used to explain why the player can manipulate perspective and objects as they can, without the depth or development that Portal and The Stanley Parable had for supporting a larger story and narrative. At most we get a number of vague whiteboard drawings hinting at a larger team of researchers, but with little support from other narrative sources in-game, it feels like an Easter Egg, or an afterthought. 

The game is fun, don’t get me wrong. The puzzles are delightful brain-twisters, forcing you to think outside the box, and outside of the mundane use of objects to solve, but don’t go into it expecting a vast sweeping story and universe. It’s a shame, really, as a lot of interesting work can be done with these mechanics, and the puzzles are unique in a way I haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of optical illusions and Escher, I strongly recommend taking a look yourself, and I still plan to play the game to its end personally. And who knows! Maybe Pillow Castle Games will take this concept into their future titles, offering new and different ways to see things and interact with things. 

Here’s looking forward to it! 

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