Developer/Publisher: Pillow Castle
Available On: PC
Official Site: http://www.pillowcastlegames.com/
Release Date: November 12, 2019
Where to Buy it: Epic Games Store
Superliminal, by Pillow Castle Games, is an experience that’s similar to Valve’s Portal series. It’s a puzzle game in a sense, but rather than giving you a single core mechanic and expanding upon it; Superliminal takes almost every single expectation the player will have about how the game works and subverts it in fun, interesting and thoughtful ways. The relative freedom is the game’s shortcoming, however; as just as Superliminal gears up to its fullest, it’s all over.
Lost In Dreams
Superliminal started its life as a rather impressive tech demo released in 2014 by the name of Museum of Simulation Technology, in which the player would get to play around with the tools and concepts that would eventually make it into the finished product. Even back then, the concepts were lauded by critics for their uniqueness and creativity in a world where Portal 2 reigned supreme, and players craved something new. The tech demo definitely delivered, though it would be another 5 years before the full game surfaced as Superliminal.
The storyline for Superliminal has the player visiting an experimental, new-age sleep therapy clinic, managed by one Dr. Glenn Pierce. Once you’re put under, you enter a dreamscape meant to help work through various mental issues like anxiety and stress, guided by an AI voice. You’re quickly introduced to Superliminal’s core mechanic; the ability to manipulate objects’ size by exploiting forced perspective. You can pick up objects and move them around, and their size will change based upon how large they appear to be- objects farther away will be larger and heavier; objects closer to you will be smaller. It’s a mind-bending mechanic that the entire game builds and expands upon throughout; similar to how Portal slowly introduces the mechanic to you over the course of the first few test chambers before going all-out. Superliminal takes advantage of this in many ways, requiring you to adjust the way you look at each room and each environment. Some puzzles may require you to simply adjust the size of objects using forced perspective, while others will require you to find the right position in the room to line up designs on the walls to form an object to pull into reality. One of my favorite puzzles (which I won’t spoil) towards the end of the game required me to completely rethink the way I look at video game world design and approach a problem with an insight that literally left me speechless.
A Dream or a Nightmare?
While the parallels to Portal are obvious, Superliminal also brings in elements of The Stanley Parable as well, with the dual narrators walking you through your dreamscape, guiding your path and explaining (in the loosest sense of the word) what’s going on in your own head. You’ll quickly learn that the rules of the dreamscape don’t always apply; as Superliminal’s rules are made to be broken. In one scene, you’ll use oversized dice blocks to guide your path to the exit; in the next, those same dice blocks may fall apart in your hands. Not even your user interface is safe, as every load screen breaks expectations in fun and creative ways.
Superliminal’s biggest shortcoming, however, is the length of the game. Depending on your skill, your playthrough might be over in just under two hours. It feels like just as the game is starting to show its most creative uses of its mechanics, it comes to a rather abrupt end. While the story ends at a perfect note, the game could have used some challenge rooms or additional modes for you to sink your teeth into once you’ve grasped the mechanics. As it stands, the game itself feels as though it doesn’t quite stick the landing, despite how awesome the gameplay is overall. The truly impressive moments in this game are overshadowed by the game’s short length. It just goes to show that Pillow Castle has some fantastic ideas, but the concepts and mechanics could have been expanded for easily double the length and still wouldn’t have overstayed their welcome.
Verdict: Superliminal doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness of its contemporaries, though the way the game subverts player expectations in regards to its mechanics is an amazing thing to see. It’s a fun ride through a dreamscape, an experience that only video games can give a person; but it’s still disappointingly brief, much like a dream you’ve forgotten by the time you wake up. With some additional challenge-room style content to keep you engaged in the world and mechanics- and perhaps support for mods and custom content- Superliminal could have been one of the greatest experiences to be had in gaming; but as it stands now, it’s a fun but brief rollercoaster that leaves you hungry for more.
- Amazing graphics
- Fun dreamlike mechanics
- An interesting story
- Very short
- No additional modes or mod support
- Replay value very low