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Community Article: Indie Insights - Superliminal

Written by John Edwards

There are things that games do better than other forms of entertainment do. Interactivity offers up experiences and new ways of looking at things that simply can't be achieved in other mediums. In Superliminal you are constantly finding new ways to look at your surroundings and adjust your perspective.

Anyone who has played Portal will be instantly at home with Superliminal's aesthetic. You wake up to find yourself being asked to perform a bunch of tasks by a disembodied voice with occasional trips to grubbier behind the scenes locations, so far, so Aperture. But whereas Portal had you zipping from one place to another, Superliminal has you using perspective tricks and optical illusions to change the environment around you.

Picking up an object holds it at that size in front of you, if you then adjust your view so that it looks like it'd be further away and let go, suddenly it is over there and a lot bigger. This could probably be better explained with a toy cow and an Irish accent.

By manipulating the size of objects you can use building blocks to climb up to greater heights or turn wedges of cheese into a useful ramp. Dotted throughout the levels are other optical illusions which at first are mostly just neat tricks to fool you or disguise corridors, but later you'll line up patterns on the walls to make the shape of objects that you can then pick up and use.

Superliminal enjoys subverting your expectations and will add twists to what you might expect to happen when you pick things up. There's strong use of colour and lighting, different chapters have a particular colour scheme for the hotel environment you appear to be doing all this in and there's at least one section where light and dark are used to puzzling effect.

Later in the game, you do get to play with portals as you will find doorways that are linked in a way that would never happen in the real world, but because you can also pick them up and change their sizes, you can shrink or grow yourself with such ease you'd make Alice jealous. There are times when you will think you've broken the game, or gone somewhere you shouldn't have, but almost certainly the developers knew you'd do that and if you really get off the beaten track you'll find some secrets.

Unusually for a Switch game, Superliminal has achievements but also a few collectables like blueprints and chess pieces, really well-hidden stuff that will stretch your navigation of the environments to find. The game is quite short, so these extras help with replayability. I can't say I'm likely to get the achievement for finishing the game in half an hour, but it's nice to know I'd be rewarded if I did.

Throughout the game, you'll come across a recorded message from a pleasantly Scottish sounding doctor who'll explain you're undergoing some sort of dream therapy. This all seems like just an excuse to do the physics bending gameplay and have GLaDOS style messages while you're performing tasks. But as the game goes on it becomes something more than that and the ending is quite euphoric. There is a strong message to be gained from this game about how we observe the world around us and our own lives. How problems can seem insurmountable until we adopt a fresh perspective.

The narration coupled with the visually striking and unpredictable manipulation of what we might expect when navigating a game's environment really creates such a sense of wonder. I felt a sensation of "this is what games can do that other art forms can't" during the end of my first playthrough. In a game about shifting perspectives, Superliminal gives a wonderful view of what games are capable of.