Gimmicks are no substitute for substance of any kind, and that couldn’t be truer in the world of video games. Titles that are entirely dependent on a fanciful feature are like one-wheeled bicycle. In other words, they’re more than likely destined to fail their intended purpose. Superliminal, a first-person puzzle game by Pillow Castle, certainly looks mind-boggling enough with its fanciful and creative tricks. However, it doesn’t take long for the dull, uninspiring gameplay to become apparent.
It starts off innocently enough. You’ve just been inducted into the Pierce Institute’s new SomnaSculpt programme, a form of dream therapy via innovative technology. However, things don’t go quite as planned as you delve further into your dreams as the environments become increasingly unusual. You’re encouraged by a snarky AI and the soft-spoken voice of the utterly useless Dr. Glenn Pierce to press onward, no matter how potentially dangerous or uncertain the outcome may be.
At first, it looks like something out of Portal or The Stanley Parable, where you follow a linear sequence of corridors and rooms that look like offices or test chambers. The game messes with the concept of perception in ridiculous ways. You can grab items from far away and move them around, only for it to increase or decrease in size exponentially. On other occasions, you might end up taking an exit sign from above a door and hold it in the air before dropping it, only to discover it’s huge. Then there’s one moment when you pluck the moon out of the sky and can shrink it down to the size of a bowling ball. It’s a very clever mechanic that you’ll need to exploit in order to climb around, knock down walls or open doors.
While the effects get trippier, the puzzles certainly don’t get any more complex. That’s one of the biggest gripes with the game: most of the time, it’s too easy. No amount of smoke and mirrors can change that. While some of the tricks do become a bit more complex, it seldom feels like you’re overcoming the odds here. It’s like walking through a fun house, going “oh, that’s weird” or “how clever” at every visual gag you come across.
Sure, the absurdity of the levels can be quite humorous at times, though the same can’t be said about the dialogue. The jokes don’t really feel like they pack any sort of punch to them. There’s an AI announcer that sounds like the developers an emulation of GLaDOS from Portal, but what made her funny was her erratic personality and snarky tone that was scarcely hidden by her auto-tuned voice programming. Here, the AI in particular just berates you and Dr. Pierce most of the time. Tape recordings of the doctor can be listened to as you progress, though these aren’t that amusing either.
Superliminal will barely take two hours to complete, and there’s little reason to return to it after your first playthrough. It barely fills the role of a puzzle game, more like a creative walking simulator with numerous visual mind-f**ks, a series of underwhelming challenges, and a stream of uninteresting, unfunny dialogue. It’s sad to say, but its lack of gameplay makes Superliminal a bit undeserving of the word ‘super’ in its name. It just goes to show that no amount of parlour tricks could make this title any more enjoyable since never had a lot of fun factor to begin with.