When I was in Spain back in 2010, I had the chance to go to The Dalí Theatre and Museum and among all of the incredible pieces of art that filled the walls, there was a giant exhibit that showcased the power of perspective. Up close, the painting was a portrait, but from a distance at a specific angle, that portrait became the center of an even bigger portrait that you couldn’t have known or seen unless you were in a specific spot of the museum. The moment I saw Superliminal, it immediately reminded me of my trip to Spain, and became a game I wanted to know more of.
On the surface, Superliminal is a puzzle game that has you manipulating objects in order to trigger switches, build platforms to traverse, or subvert reality by how you maneuver the items in relation to your plane of view. The mechanics are built around the idea of perspective– and for the most part function as you would imagine they would. The gameplay focuses around completing rooms and areas in order to advance to more challenging puzzles as the narrative slowly builds around your puzzle solving journey through the Somnasculpt dream therapy program.
The puzzles start off rather easy, teaching you how the perspective mechanics work, but as you venture deeper into the story you’ll have to really wiggle through some mental gymnastics in order to complete certain puzzles. I don’t think the puzzle difficulty spiked too hard in any aspects, but you definitely need to approach certain areas with an open mind and critical eye. The pop of euphoria when you do complete some of the harder challenges is an overwhelming joy worth achieving on your own. Though, with only being able to interact with certain objects, sometimes it was easier than I’m sure intended to look for grabbable items in order to solve certain areas. Even though this tactic could only be applied in certain scenarios, it felt like a way around assessing the area you were in.
In Superliminal the story centers around you, the test subject, trying to complete the clinical trials of Dr. Glenn Pierce’s Somnasculpt program. As you progress, you’ll come across tape recorders that inch the plot along as well as visual storytelling scattered throughout, with notes and dry erase boards filled with clues as to what is actually going on.
For a gameplay concept that is rather unique and executed well, I felt as though there was something missing from the narrative to make me care more about the story they are trying to tell. I definitely picked up Portal-esque vibes but didn’t feel that same type of emotional connection that Portal or other similar types of puzzle games try and concoct. If there was that connection, I think the story would become integral to the Superliminal experience, but without it I think you could enjoy the gameplay and puzzles without paying too much attention to the world building.
The art style is minimalistic, but because of the focus on perspective and how the environment and objects are key components to the flow of the game– each choice in art, lighting, and colors scheme all seem to have purpose and intention. While Superliminal may not blow you away with graphical fidelity or sprawling set pieces, the way that certain objects or rooms react to your interactions or change of lighting are what it does well and succeeds at every single time. It’s beautiful in a way that still pictures may not do it justice, because the movement within and the change in perspective is what helps you appreciate the art design in Superliminal.
Where Superliminal excels is in the quality of puzzles and essentially being an interactive art exhibit. As the perspectives shift and the colors and rooms change before your eyes, there’s something magical at play for those willing to take a walk through these halls. As someone who does enjoy going to museums, living in a world affected by a pandemic and that activity not being something I can partake in at all in 2020, Superliminal checks a specific box for me. With understated art and sound design, there are times where the art, color choices, and music all blend together with the, at times trippy puzzles, to display something truly worth experiencing. I wish the narrative hit more for me, but the rest of Superliminal was a step inside a mind museum I’d surely admit myself into again.
Superliminal is available now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. We reviewed Superliminal on Xbox One with a code provided by the publisher.
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