Subsurface Circular, The Game That Makes Small Talk Interesting.
Availability Windows, IOS, Steam, Nintendo Switch.
Original release date August 17th 2017
Developers Mike Bithell Games.
Publisher Mike Bithell Games.
Genre Text Adventure.
Subsurface Circular (Nintendo Switch).
Have you ever been on public transport and someone is trying to strike up a conversation with you, about something as mundane as the weather, or their petty problems that doesn’t interest you? On the other hand, are you the kind of person who will happily talk to strangers through all walks of life?
Whichever category you fall into, Subsurface Circular cuts out any tedious conversation and potential awkwardness of Talking to strangers, by putting you the player in the role as a detective.
You play as a Tek (the games version of a robot), you assume the role as a detective investigating the disappearances of a number of Tek’s. The gameplay revolves around asking questions to different Tek’s, who are using the Subsurface Circular, which is a subway network exclusive to the Tek’s.
Although the gameplay is limited to talking to the Tek’s in one single subway carriage, with some sporadic puzzles, the game does a good job in varying the conversations through dialogue trees, keeping the game at a steady pace. The game excels at giving the Tek’s distinct personalities from each other, through their occupation, level of intelligence and their differing opinions on humans. The game does a great job in allowing the player to come to their own conclusions about the disappearances throughout the game, and eventually ‘ethical and political issues around a sentient robotic workforce’ and ‘situations arising to a modern insurgence’
The puzzle solving aspect involves listening carefully to the dialogue, in order to get information for another Tek, these puzzles help in terms of breaking up the dialogue, and help with the pacing during the segments of the game.
Although graphically the game doesn’t give you much to look at, as you are confined to your carriage, it nevertheless manages to be visually pleasing, going full throttle on a futuristic look (obviously). More prominently are the camera angles in reference to where your character is sitting, and the Tek you are speaking to, making it seem more personal, as you are speaking to them on a one to one basis.
As mentioned before, you are limited to your carriage, so there is not much to speak of in terms of controls, for the Nintendo Switch you use the joystick to select dialogue options and choose which Tek to speak to, and scroll up and down to re-read dialogue. Sometimes you use the buttons to make use of the subway map, which is important for puzzle solving.
In spite of having a good story and meaningful interactions, I can’t help feeling that this game could have been so much more, as I don’t feel you get enough information from the Tek’s, as more often then not they are limited by their intellectual capacity and contact with humans. I understand the game wishes for the player to come to their own conclusions, but unfortunately I still felt it was difficult to do so when the only information is given second hand by the Tek’s, and the game not giving you an opportunity to speak to any humans at any end of the hierarchy. As the player we don’t gain a deeper understanding of human attitudes towards Tek’s, and how they feel about both sets of people co existing, or Tek’s taking on roles that traditionally humans do. As a result, any moral decision that the player makes at the end, doesn’t provide a full picture for the player to make a concrete decision.
This game also doesn’t support voice acting, which is a shame as I feel the game did a great job in giving the Tek’s personalities in the first place. The use of voice acting would be a great way to add another layer of personality to the Tek’s. However, the game was developed by only a small group of people and voice acting would have made a large dent in their budget, also Since Subsurface Circular is heavily inspired by early text adventure games, the use of voice acting may have been straying to far away from the developer’s original intentions.
Subsurface Circular is a great example of producing a good game with very little, much like the text adventures it was influenced by. The game manages to weave a good story in a short running time (around 2 hours).On the downside, I feel this game could have benefited from interactions from the human variety, as well as more challenging puzzles, to help break up the dialogue. Overall, I would recommend Subsurface Circular for an interesting evening and more interesting after thoughts.
Quote of the game There’s going to be a revolution, the city will be overturned’
COMING SOON, I LOOK AT THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS IN SUBSURFACE CIRCULAR (Look for my article on gamesense).
Written by Matthew Birkinshaw.