I’m not saying that Superliminal has a few nods to Portal, but Superliminal has a few nods to Portal. Well that and I felt a bit of The Stanley Parable in there too. We aren’t talking anywhere near rip-off territory here, as Castle Pillow Games’ title is still unique in its own way.
Look, I’ll come to my reasoning for those first statements in a bit. For now though I’ll concentrate on what is placed in front of you, in a game where you literally cannot believe your own two eyes.
Who doesn’t like a good optical illusion? It doesn’t matter if you see the sailboat or not. Or whether you know who M.C Escher is, we are generally all blown away by optical illusions. The way our brains function and interpret the world around is truly a thing of wonder. So when that perceived reality is messed with, our brains do some weird mental gymnastics to process what we actually look at.
The is the general concept of Superliminal to use the world around you and manipulate seemingly mundane objects to go through a series of rooms and progress through the world. Set within a lucid dream, you sense anything is possible, but yet somehow still restricted within known real world rules.
There are plenty of surprises, twists and turns to the unfolding story and the game mechanics themselves. None of which I will spoil. But it is the evolving game mechanics that keep you super invested from start to finish.
I mention that there is a mix of supposed real world restriction, with the idea that anything is possible in a dream state and after initially thinking this was a limitation of the game and something to criticise, I soon felt like this was a deliberate decision from the developers, designed to force you to think and act in a certain way.
To comparison to Portal and The Stanley Parable comes from a sense that all is not as it seems. I don’t just mean with regards to the the game mechanics either. Superliminal actually takes that part further than both of those aforementioned games. It is the setting that does it. Using a simple / mundane world around you, feels you initially with comfort, but soon becomes increasingly uncomfortable. I might not be explaining that in the best, way, but if you’ve played either of those games, you get the idea.
Superliminal does a wonderful thing within its well crafted world. It forces you to always be thinking outside the box, always looking at what is usable to progress. Yet it then pulls you back into that box and gets you to apply real world logic. At times it makes no literal sense, but whilst still having guided you in a way you can easily make sense of what is happening.
It is an odd game in this respect and whilst you feel clever when you find your way through various areas, it also becomes apparent you can sort of brute force your way past some sections, whereas others require plenty of lateral thinking and planning.
I’ve played games that have messed with me before. The horrors of Silent Hill, Resident Evil VII, the mind fuck that is Hellblade Senua’s Sacrifice or the emotional pull from games such as The Last Of Us, Persona 4, That Dragon Cancer and various others. But Superliminal manages to mess with my head in a whole new way.
As someone who loves logic and can only function when things are always logical, this was difficult to cope with. To put it in context, the only horror film I am genuinely terrified by is Nightmare on Elm St. This is due to pretty much every other single horror film can be explained away logically. However, Nightmare on Elm St happens within your dreams and anything can happen there. I have woken from dreams before with marks I cannot explain, but remember getting them in said dream. The real world manifestation of injury from dreaming is a real thing. Thus even if the figure of Freddy Kruger is an imaginary projection within a dream, the real world consequences can be just that… real. So yeah, that film terrifies me.
Superliminal doesn’t terrify me, but it really messed with my psyche during my time with it. I dreamt of world and the way I interacted with it. I was trying to make sense of it all within my own dreams. I was punishing myself within those dreams if I broke the game rules to progress. It sounds ludicrous, yet here we are. I doubt that was the developers main intention, but it is the effect it had on me.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I actually felt good about things post dream. It was a positive thing more than anything, but yeah, it had a very subconscious effect. More than any other game I have played in recent years.
Sorry, that review went off on a bit of a tangent didn’t it? Superliminal is a fantastic game that takes a few influences from other games and uses those as a base to produce something remarkable. One you owe to yourself to at the very least give a go.