Here is a game that you may have seen around on the web, as gifs of its bizarre gameplay were quite popular in gaming communities. Superliminal is a relaxed puzzle game, whose core mechanic is that the world is actively reshaped by your perspective. What does that mean? It’s complicated.
The game wastes little time in getting you started. After a brief intro cutscene that hints at the game’s backstory, you are dropped in a room and the puzzles commence. The game’s feel lies somewhere between Portal and The Stanley Parable; it’s a game driven by a constant string of puzzles crafted around a strong, central mechanic, which, mainly through narration, tells a story about the player getting into trouble for disregarding the game’s rules & instructions.
Instead of portals, Superliminal‘s gimmick is that objects change depending on how you look at them. By carefully manipulating the camera and controls for grabbing, you can move around objects, make them seem bigger or smaller, than place them back down to maintain that size. You buy a canned drink, throw it in the air, then catch it right before it hits you in the face to get a MEGA version. Or you can pick up a giant obstacle and drag it really close, making it look (and thus become) smaller.
These systems are later expanded with other ideas, like making images on walls line-up in order to will objects into reality or items that don’t move when you grab them, but simply conjure forth a duplicate. It’s difficult to explain, but the systems make almost instantaneous sense the moment you get to interact with them.
What I appreciate the most in this game is just how breezy its pacing feels. Puzzles are generally short and of modest difficulty, with a challenge curve that left me momentarily stumped at times, but never outright stuck. At most a difficult puzzle would take me 10 minutes, with the eventual answer always giving me chuckle when I figured them out. At the same time, the game is great at making you feel smart. It feels like you are breaking the game and manipulating what should be possible, even when you are actually following the intended path. Clever stuff.
This feeling is encouraged by the story, which sees you undergoing an experimental therapy in your dreams that soon goes off-the-rails. Much of your adventure is narrated by an increasingly-frustrated AI voice that keeps asking you to please follow instructions properly, as well as a pretentious scientist who keeps making hollow promises to help you, but who has clearly lost control of the situation. The writing is comedic and the plot becomes quite interesting as it goes on, even if it never quite reaches the level on which Portal and The Stanley Parable were operating.
Another potential point of criticism towards the game is its tendencies towards repetition. While the puzzles are fun and usually quick, a few too many of them are just variations on making an object big enough to reach a ledge. It’s always at least slightly different, but can feel like padding in a game that is already not too long; clocking in at less than 150 minutes for me. Coffee breaks included.
Its creative mechanics alone already earn Superliminal a solid recommendation for anyone who even slightly enjoyed Portal or similar short-form puzzle games. The strong writing and good pacing made this game a very enjoyable ride overall, though redoing a lot of the easier puzzles and pushing through the walking sim-style narrative segments limit the game’s replayability.