I’m not really very keen on text adventures for the most part. Too often the stories are amateurish and poorly told with too many holes. They start with a wide, grand platform and frequently don’t deliver on the promises they make in the early stages. It is a bit of a broad statement to apply to an ever growing genre, but I can’t really name many – if any – text adventures I’ve really enjoyed. However, despite all my reservations on the genre, I did want to give Subsurface Circular a try. Instead of wondering if the game would be utter tripe, I was curious to try it, given famed musician Dan le Sac had attached his name to it. Surely, a person of his standing wouldn’t want to be associated with something terrible, right?
A twist on the genre
The idea of Subsurface Circular is to determine where a missing robot has gone. The catch is that you can’t leave your seat on the train you’re on. So, you have to make do with what you’ve got and attempt to chat to all types of different robots in order to discover the truth. Robots in this world have been created to be subservient to mankind. They do the jobs that humans deem to be too big a waste of time. This means that your conversational partners are an interesting array of robots – nannies, advertising units and soldiers as well as a few others will board the train. It’s up to you to try to coerce them into giving you the information you desire. This, in itself, isn’t that remarkable of a text adventure game. You would always have to traverse conversations in order to progress the story, but Subsurface Circular does something slightly different which makes the game a little more interesting. Taking a leaf out of the point and click adventure’s book, this game gives you an ‘inventory’ of sorts. It’s not a standard inventory, you don’t put items there, but you do stick conversation points in there, in order to interrogate your fellow passengers with them. This allowed for deeper, more interesting storytelling and it added a nice extra bit of functionality to a genre that desperately needs a bit of ingenuity.
As opposed to most text adventure games which are mostly, if not entirely, text based, Subsurface Circular includes a fully modelled 3D train to enjoy, with animated robots – your conversational partners – boarding and leaving at various stations. It’s surprising that the developers went to this much depth with the graphics, but it is genuinely fantastic. Each robot had a distinctive appearance, and moved in realistic ways. Even the user interface had a lot that was ‘right’ about it. It was in the ‘modern’, minimalist style and was clean, clear and lovely on the eye.
Without giving too much away about Subsurface Circular, there was one component of it that really irked me. The ending. It’s a really well told story up until the final point where you have to make a decision, and as soon as you make that decision, that’s it. Game over. No additional story to tell you what happened after you made your decision. You end the game, sucked in and engaged with the story, but clueless as to what happens afterwards. The game is really short as well, so having an extra five or ten minutes to explain the outcome of the game doesn’t feel like it should have cost much in terms of effort, but it would’ve added so much value. Adding on to that, the length as well could probably be described as disappointing at best. I managed to see all of the game, and obtained all of the achievements in under two hours of gameplay. Now that I’ve completed it, it’s just going to sit in my library, untouched and never to be played again. There’s not much replay value as the game has a fairly prescribed route and going down it once is more than enough.
The Final Word
I don’t think I’ll find all that many text adventure games that I enjoy, but Subsurface Circular was definitely one of them. The game was surprisingly fun, with a well written story and some gorgeous visuals. I don’t really have much of a reason to play it again though, and the shortness of the story and the abruptness of the ending were so disappointing. I do still think it’s a game worth playing though, even for people that don’t generally enjoy a text adventure game.