Release date: August 17, 2017
Platforms: PC (played), iOS, Nintendo Switch
In Subsurface Circular, the player is thrust into a world where humanity has created robots, called teks, to do a lot of work on their behalf. More specifically, the protagonist of this story is a detective tek that has been hired to investigate a series of suspicious tek disappearances. The premise of this story is simple, but as the player learns more about the world and characters, plot threads become more complex and interwoven.
This game is best enjoyed in a single sitting, with the short length of the game further encouraging this approach. I personally found that, once I had started engaging with the variety of characters and learning more about how plot threads tie together, that I didn’t want to quit the game until I had seen it through to the end.
This game plays out as a visual novel in which the player converses with various teks, picking responses as the conversation continues. As time goes on, the player receives special key words that can be dropped into the conversation by clicking on them, which allows for further investigation into the tek disappearances. This leads into some light puzzle elements of determining which key words need to be used on certain teks in order to further advance the plot.
The gameplay is minimal, but there’s just enough puzzles in the game to keep Subsurface Circular from becoming monotonous. For anyone who is concerned about the puzzle difficulty, most of the puzzles are very simple and are solved with basic common sense. There are two puzzles that are a little tougher, but there’s a very generous hinting mechanism that can be used without any penalty during these spots, which prevents the game from losing momentum because of a puzzle stumping the player. It’s a small added feature, but one that many gamers may appreciate.
As a lot of the game is told through dialogue, the way text is presented needs to be clean, and Subsurface Circular delivers. Everything on screen is laid out in a way that makes clear sense to the player. Key words are highlighted in orange, and the conversations themselves are laid out like a classic text message conversation, with the player’s responses being on the right side of the screen. I did notice, as I read quickly, that even after maxing out the reading speed, teks responded to what I said slower than I would have liked. Still, this is a minor issue that rarely bothered me much.
The music and sound effects here are relatively minimal, similarly to the graphic design. There are some musical swells between segments of the game, and I noticed there are some small beeps when teks are working out responses to my conversation topic, but I wouldn’t personally say that anything in the sound design has a significant impact on the game, either positive or negative.
When I finished my playthrough of Subsurface Circular, I was honestly surprised at how little time it took me, because the amount of story packed into two to three hours of gameplay is phenomenal here. There are so many AAA games these days that could learn a thing or two from these smaller indie titles. Still, I am hardly shocked at how good this game is, primarily because of my love for Thomas Was Alone by the same group, which I played years ago. Overall, this game is well worth the low price point, and will not disappoint anyone that enjoys unique narrative adventures that are heavy on plot.