Things aren’t always as they seem – this is the main thing you need to keep in mind when playing Superliminal, the most ingenious and mind-blowing puzzle game I’ve ever experienced. I don’t think I’ve ever played anything which has had me gasp in disbelief every time I entered a new room and attempted the ‘puzzle’ before me, requiring me to constantly think outside the box in order to proceed. However, there’s one small element of the game which turned the experience from a masterful piece of art into a frustrating and annoying experience, an element which needs to be rectified ASAP.
Developed and published by Pillow Castle Games, Superliminal is their first game (from what I can see), and it’s a brilliant first impression for what the studio is capable of. Not only have they broken reality and perception in order to create a mind-boggling experience, but they’ve encased it within a humous narrative that keeps you hooked as you solve the puzzles. The game released on PC last year and it’s just launched on PS4, Xbox One and the Switch, I’ll be taking a look at the PS4 version but I imagine all of them play very similarly.
So, let’s open our minds and relax as we enter the dream-like world of Superliminal…
Surprisingly, there’s a solid narrative within Superliminal which is narrated to us via two voices. First, we have the Standard Orientation Protocol, a female-voiced artificial intelligence who is very sarcastic and sassy. She likes to point out the obvious and mildly explain what’s going on, acting as your guide in this subconscious world. Second, we have Dr. Glenn Pierce, the voice of a doctor who likes to remind you that they can’t ‘find’ you and help you get out of this lucid condition. As such, he provides more helpful narration in relation to your situation – sometimes.
But, where are you? How did you get here? And who are you? These are all open to interpretation but if look at the literal steps which led to you appearing within this strange world, you fell asleep whilst watching an advert for SomnaSculpt, a dream therapy clinic which delves into your subconscious dreams and helps you to relax. This is almost like the plot of Suicide Guy, in which you fall asleep watching TV and now must play through levels based on TV shows and adverts you can hear whilst you’re actually asleep on your couch. Similarly, each floor you descend into is apparently a different layer of your subconscious thoughts such as anxiety and repetition.
But, are you actually in SomnaSculpt? Are the doctor and the female narrator real? Or, are you imagining the whole experience, with your brain creating these two fictional characters as a way to help you escape your fantastical prison? Who knows? All I know is that I have to solve these brain-hurting puzzles and make it to the elevator in order to dive deeper into my imagination and hopefully make it to 8 am when my bedside alarm should ‘hopefully’ wake me up!
Superliminal is a mind-fuck puzzle game, taking reality and physics and throwing them out of the window. It’s all about your perception within this strange dream world, using random objects in order to progress. However, this is quite unlike any other puzzle game you’ve ever played, not everything is as it seems and object manipulation is the key to success.
The game opens with some simple, yet mind-boggling puzzles – grab a massive Pawn piece and look down whilst holding it to see it ‘shrink’. The piece isn’t actually shrinking as such, instead, it remains the same size but the perspective of it has now altered, which in turn adjusts the physical size of the object. This method is used throughout the game as a means to increase and decrease the size of blocks and cheese. It’s a very clever effect which really messes with your head – dropping an item then walking up to it (so it’s a little bigger), then grabbing it and walking back so that it actually grows massive due to the perspective.
There are a bunch of other effects which are used as well such as duplicating items when you click on them, lining up paintings in order to create a physical item, and walking into the shadows which are cleverly hiding secret rooms and passages. The entire experience is rather surreal and confusing the first time you play it, resulting in me becoming confused at various puzzles until I’d worked out what the game wanted me to do.
My playthrough experiences
Superliminal took me around two to three hours to complete on my first attempt due to being in awe at every puzzle and how the mechanics worked. I spent so long simply making things bigger and smaller just so I could try and figure out how the game was doing it. My second playthrough, with the help of a guide, took around two hours. This playthrough was to find all of the collectables (something I believe wouldn’t be possible without a guide due to how small and well-hidden they are) and triggering all of the fire alarms and extinguishers.
My third playthrough was purely for the speedrun trophy – I finished the game in 45 minutes and bagged the “under one-hour trophy” which I was quite proud of. However, I then realised there was one trophy left, one which turned this game from a fun and entertaining experience into one of the most frustrating and annoying games I’ve played all year – “Complete the game in under 30 minutes”…
I know a handful of people have achieved this trophy, but I’m throwing this out there and saying it’s borderline impossible. The PS4 is plagued with long loading times (like 20+ seconds between floors), there’s a long intro you can’t skip, and accurately looking and moving around is impossible with the DS4. You can only achieve mouse-levels of movement if you crank the sensitivity all the way up but then you’re looking around like you’re on acid! You literally have to get everything right the first time, otherwise, you may as well give up and start again. I’ve attempted this 15 times so far…
Just to see if I could make the run easier, I started using my NACON Revolution Unlimited Pro Controller as it has adjustable dead zones and replaceable sticks which increase the sensitivity. Alas, this didn’t help. I even resorted to trying out reWASD, a PC application which supposedly lets you use your mouse and keyboard with any PS4 game via Remote Play – I couldn’t get the mouse to work for me though. I shouldn’t have to be trying to fudge my way to achieve a trophy!
Personally, I feel the developers should add native keyboard and mouse support to the game so that we can play it accurately and have a fair chance at hitting the 30-minute mark, or they should increase the trophy to 35 or 40-minutes. The fastest time on PC (with no loading times and a mouse) is 24 minutes. So, doing the same thing with extended loading and a controller is very, very hard. My fastest time, for context, is 36 minutes including the intro movie and loading times.
Visually Superliminal may look simple from the outside, but the simplicity is hiding a very complex and well-designed labyrinth of puzzles. The way the developers have integrated optical illusions into the game is both fascinating and brilliant. This really is a game in which you can’t take anything for granted as not everything is as it seems and the answer isn’t always the most obvious solution.
In terms of the performance, I only had one framerate issue but it was also present in a PC speedrun video I watched, so I think the puzzle in that area is what caused the issue for both of us. It only lasted a few moments though. The game itself is plagued with glitches though, something the speedrunners have used to achieve a seven-minute playthrough of the game (I was trying to get tips to ‘cheat’ my way to the 30-minute trophy). You probably won’t experience any of the issues, but you can propel yourself out of bounds if you place a block underneath yourself at a certain angle, you can clip through things accidentally, and you can ping objects into space!
In one of my speedrun attempts, I placed a house down, which I had to enter, and it flew off, never to be seen again. That basically ruined my run and I had to start it all over again.
In terms of the voice acting, I really enjoyed Max Howarth as the voice of Dr. Glenn Pierce, he was soothing yet trustworthy even though he had no idea how to help us half of the time. The voice of the female and male AI appears to be text-to-speech (I think). There’s no mention of a voice actor in the credits and the voice is a little robotic at times, so I believe it may be an actual artificial voice – which is cool if it is. The music is like Glenn’s voice, it’s very relaxing and calming, almost like Musak (elevator music). It’s a shame the soundtrack isn’t available to buy on the PS4.
On a side note, the actual narrative appears to have been written by Will O’Neill, the man behind titles such as Little Red Lie, Actual Sunlight, Planet of the Eyes, and more!
Despite my hate of the unfair and borderline impossible speedrun trophy, Superliminal is easily one of the most ingenious and clever puzzle games I’ve ever played. The way the game messes with your head as it introduces new mind-boggling puzzles is incredible and the first time you play the game you’ll be left in awe at how much the game plays with you. The experience itself isn’t very long and will leave you wanting more puzzles and maybe a little more variety in the solutions, but it’s an experience you’ll not forget due to how entertaining and unique the journey is. Fans of puzzle games will simply love this game and everything it has to offer.
If I was to sum up the game in one sentence, I’d say “Superliminal is like a puzzle-based Stanley Parable, only on crack!”
- - A puzzle game like you've never seen before
- - Brilliant puzzles which will mess with your head
- - Really good voice acting and written narrative, something you don't usually get in puzzle games
- - Calm and relaxing music to help you solve the unusual puzzles
- - Really annoying and hard to achieve speedrun trophy
- - It's a little short with little replayability once you know the solutions and have all the collectables
- - There are a lot of glitches and bugs but you may not see any as it all depends on the physics