Regular readers will know that I have always been a big fan of puzzle games especially if they try something unique. As soon as I saw the trailer for Superliminal I was intrigued because it looked really unique and it reminded me a lot of the Portal series and The Stanley Parable. The puzzle elements seemed like something straight out of Portal and the overall atmosphere reminded me a lot of The Stanley Parable. Portal is simply one of the best puzzle game series that I have ever played as it combined innovative mechanics with really clever puzzle design. Meanwhile the gameplay in The Stanley Parable might not have been much, but the story and the overall experience was so unique that I have yet to find another game that has been able to successfully replicate it. As I loved both of these games I was really excited to try out Superliminal. Superliminal has a few rough edges but it succeeds at being a truly original trippy experience that fans of quirky puzzle games should love.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Pillow Castle for the review copy of Superliminal used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Superliminal you play as a person who is currently dealing with some issues in their life. After seeing an advertisement for Somnasculpt on television you decide to check out their dream therapy program to see if that will help with your issues. You arrive at the facility and undergo the procedure. You wake up in a small room to an alarm clock going off. As you exit the room you are informed by a computer AI that you that you are currently in a dream state and have to undergo basic diagnostic tests before you begin the therapy. Things quickly go wrong though as you go off the beaten path and start to fall deeper and deeper into your dreams. Will you be able to find a way out or will you forever be stuck in an endless dream state?
The thing that initially stood out to me in the trailer for Superliminal was the gameplay. Superliminal is a game about optical illusions and forced perspective. Basically the gameplay revolves around your perception becoming reality. The main way this concept is utilized in Superliminal is the ability to manipulate the size of objects. When you bring an object closer to you and it appears to be getting bigger it actually is getting bigger. When you get farther away from the object it literally gets smaller. This ability allows you to drop items from a high distance and they will grow in size as they approach you. This ability of making objects smaller and larger is used to solve a lot of the puzzles. Small objects can fit through small areas, and large objects can be used as platforms to reach new areas of a level.
While the ability to increase and decrease the size of objects is the main gameplay mechanic, there are a few other mechanics that utilize the concept of perception is reality. A lot of the mechanics involve manipulating the environment to create a path to the next area. I won’t spoil most of them as they involve a lot of the most clever puzzles found at the end of the game, but I want to bring up one other mechanic that plays a pretty big role in the game. In Superliminal what you see is what you get. Throughout the game you will see things painted on the walls that look like physical objects (the game does an amazing job utilizing perspective), but when you examine them closer they are just painted on the walls/ground. As what you see is what you get though if you look at the paintings at the right angles the corresponding object will materialize. You will need to use this ability to materialize the objects needed to proceed.
Heading into Superliminal I was really intrigued by the concept of a puzzle game that built puzzles around a player’s perception. The idea of being able to manipulate the size of objects and the environment itself just by how you viewed it was a truly unique idea that I had never seen utilized before in a video game. For the most part the game lives up to this premise. The game truly lets you manipulate the environment based on how you view it. I have played a lot of puzzle games and have not played anything quite like Superliminal before. Probably the closest puzzle game with similar puzzle structure that I have played is Portal. Superliminal is not as good as Portal (an all time classic puzzle game), but it does a very good job replicating the experience of playing a game like Portal. Fans of Portal should really enjoy playing Superliminal.
Outside of the clever concept Superliminal succeeds because of its clever puzzle design. With such a unique concept Superliminal had a lot of potential. The concept itself was interesting but that alone was not enough to make it a good game. The game could have easily gone off the rails without good puzzle design and turned into a mess. The good news is that the puzzle design in Superliminal is fantastic. The game doesn’t have a ton of different mechanics, but it does a good job utilizing them. Each puzzle in the game feels unique. To avoid spoilers I won’t get into specifics, but some of the later puzzles really show off the creativity of the puzzle design.
While this was kind of obvious from the concept of reality being manipulated by your perception, I have to bring up that Superliminal is a really trippy game. That is to be expected in a game where you can manipulate the size of an object by how close you are to it when you look at it. This is just the beginning of how trippy the game can become. The best way I came up with to describe what it is like playing Superliminal is that it feels like what you would get if you combined MC Escher paintings with a funhouse that messes with your perception. I won’t provide specifics to avoid spoilers but as you descend deeper and deeper into your dreams the game becomes more and more trippy. The game is not afraid to play off your your preconceived notions and perception. This leads to a truly unique looking game that looks very good for an indie game.
As for the story I think it is a little hit or miss. I will admit that the story starts out a little slow as it mostly consists of the computer AI telling you what you should be doing. As you dive deeper into your dreams though you start to hear recordings from Dr. Pierce as he tries to bring you out of your dream. Most of the game’s story is told through these recordings and the environments you explore. Heading into Superliminal I thought the story was going to be similar to The Stanley Parable. In some ways it is and in other ways it isn’t. The overall atmosphere of the game reminded me a lot of The Stanley Parable without the whole ignore the narrator mechanic. At the same time though I don’t think Superliminal is as funny as The Stanley Parable even though it has its own funny moments. I think people will have some mixed feelings about the story as some people will really like it and others won’t get much out of it. Outside of the slow beginning I thought the story was pretty good especially as you reach the end of the game and there is a deeper meaning to the whole game.
Superliminal deserves a lot of credit for creating a truly original gameplay experience with creative and clever puzzle design. There are a few issues with the game though.
I would say that the biggest issue with Superliminal is that due to the game’s concept there are occasional technical issues. As items can be shrunk and blown up to almost any size there was bound to be some issues. This is most prevalent with the physics sometimes going haywire. There will be times in the game where you will know what you need to do, but you need to get the physics to work properly. Large objects in particular jump around from time to time and get caught on particles in the environment. Thus you will need to spend some time manipulating objects to get them into the right position. There was also one time where I literally fell through the environment due to clipping through a wall or floor. With how trippy the game was getting at that point I actually thought it was part of the game. After I noticed that it was a glitch I just had to reset back to the previous checkpoint which didn’t lose me too much progress.
The second issue with the game is going to be a bigger issue for some people than others. When watching the trailer for the game some people will probably think that it is going to be a sandbox where you are free to do pretty much whatever you want in order to solve the puzzles. Unfortunately this is not the case in Superliminal. There is a little flexibility in how you can solve some of the puzzles, but for the most part the game is pretty linear. There are only specified objects that you can interact with as a majority of the items are stationary and can’t be manipulated. For most puzzles there is also only one solution. While I wished there would have been a little more flexibility in the puzzle solving, I didn’t find this to be a huge issue as the puzzle design is so clever. If you are looking for a sandbox where you can solve the puzzles however you want though you will be a little disappointed.
The final issue that I had with Superliminal has to deal with the difficulty and length. I play a lot of puzzle games so this might have had an impact on my opinion of Superliminal’s difficulty, but I didn’t find the game to be all that difficult. I would say that I was able to solve most of the puzzle pretty quickly. There were only a couple that were kind of challenging with one towards the end of the game taking a while to solve. The puzzles are challenging enough that you feel a sense of accomplishment when you solve them. They are not challenging enough though where you have to put a lot of thought into solving them. If you are looking for a real challenge you will probably be a little disappointed. As the puzzles are pretty simple it leads to the game being a little shorter than I would have liked. Superliminal took me around four hours to finish and I would expect that most people could finish the game in around 4-5 hours. This is not a terrible length but I think the game could have been a little longer as it was still going strong when it ended.
I had pretty high expectations heading into Superliminal and for the most part the game met them. What initially intrigued me about Superliminal was the concept that perception becomes reality. The idea of how you view the environment actually changing the environment was such a unique idea that I had never seen before and I have played a lot of puzzle games. For the most part Superliminal does a really good job utilizing the concept. The mechanics are really interesting and the game does a great job utilizing them to create some truly original puzzles. Superliminal is a trippy experience and is unlike anything that I have ever played before. There are a few technical issues at times and I wish the game gave you a little more flexibility in how you solve the puzzles. Superliminal is also a little easy and on the shorter side. I still really enjoyed my time with Superliminal though.
People who generally aren’t fans of puzzle games or don’t really care for Superliminal’s premise probably won’t get much enjoyment out of the game. Fans of puzzle games that think the concept sounds interesting though should really enjoy their time with Superliminal. I would highly recommend that you consider picking up Superliminal.