Subsurface Circular Review
Nintendo SwitchAlso available on PC
Subsurface Circular is the kind of game that really shakes things up in the industry. The time between the game announcement and the release was nil. It was just casually announced that it was on steam and was available immediately by Mike Bithell on twitter. If you aren't familiar with Mike Bithell's work then you should consider changing that. Between the wonderful Thomas Was Alone and the fantastic stealth game Volume Bithell and his team are producing some of the best indie games around. For now the only one you can play on Switch is this one but who knows what the future will hold for what is rapidly the console as it draws more and more indie games over.
The game is set on an underground train called the Subsurface Circular in a world populated by robots called Teks who assist humans in day to day life. You play the role of a Tek who is a detective and is therefore smarter than most Teks. You see each one is given intelligence and capabilities fitting it's role. So Fabrication and Soldier Teks are sturdier but tend to be less intelligent while Detective Teks sit somewhere near the top in terms of intelligence. Your entire life is on this train and as you are sitting there minding your own business you get told about a string of disappearances and you are tasked with finding out the cause.
To do this you question various Teks you come across all of whom feel unique and interesting and as each one talks they reveal more and more about the world the game is set in, it really speaks to the strength of the writing that by the end of the game you know so much about the world without any lengthy cut-scenes or exposition. Of course without writing there wouldn't be much to see, in essence this is an adventure/visual novel and thankfully it has some of the most successful world building and character development in any game around, indie or otherwise. Each conversation is genuinely enjoyable and over the course of the game you cover a plethora of subjects. What happens when automation stops human beings having jobs, will robots be religious, what kind of jokes do Teks tell? These are the kind of subjects you will go over and it really is an entertaining journey through all of them.
The gameplay is simple enough, as each conversation progresses you get to choose your answer and as you progress you get new conversation topics that you can bring up. These allow you to ask other passengers questions and unlock more new topics and so on. Each choice allows you to explore different ideas from different perspectives and the character you play as will be imprinted with enough of your personality that you will start to really relate with them. While the story itself is linear you get a fair bit of wiggle room in how you come to the end of each section and ultimately the end of the game.
Along with the basic conversations there are a couple of puzzles thrown in which are there to challenge your deduction skills. One of the puzzles that really stands out is incredibly subtle and is centered around switching between two robots who are linked in order to find out more information, the way it works is that one of them handles the emotions so the other can think. Along with this style of puzzle are more traditional logic puzzles, in the event that these aren't your thing your character has a built in deduction module that will help you through these. This gives you the chance to show off your deductive prowess or eventually throw in the towel along with the piece of paper you were using to try and figure them out with.
Subsurface Circular is a gem of a game and a must play for those who are after something a little different and anyone who loves a good story. The writing is almost obscenely good and the characters are enthralling throughout, even the listener bots. While you may not think this game is for you it would certainly be wise to pick it up and play it anyway because you would be missing out on one of the best games in the last year and, as is the case with so many indie games, it is perfect on the Switch. If you want something to challenge how you think and tell you a magnificent story then this should be the first game you look to and you will be rewarded with some of the best writing in gaming as a result.