Subsurface Circular Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: Bithell Games
Publisher: Ant Workshop
Release Date: March 1st 2018
Price as of Article: $5.99 USD, £4.79 GBP
Subsurface Circular is a short, interactive story meant to be played in a single session. Its a decision based text game wrapped up in a shiny, robotic sheen – its not going to be for everyone and there really is no gameplay outside of these dialogue choices.
Subsurface Circular takes place in the near future where Teks – intelligent robots have become a large section of the population taking on many roles from builders through to psychiatrists, athletes and even detectives.
This is where you step in, you play as a detective on the Subsurface Circular – a tube built specifically for Teks to travel underground. You are geo-locked to the subway unable to leave and the game plays out on this carriage through discussions with the various Tek passengers, its a text adventure.
As a detective you work on behalf of the city’s unseen human government class known as management, as the story unfolds through your conversations you can sense the political undertones here ranging from racism to the state of the economy.
You are drawn into an unusual case outside of your normal parameters seemingly by chance and proceed to investigate by talking to fellow Teks. Some of them don’t talk to you or can’t speak past their pre-programmed role and you are led along a linear story culminating in a tough choice.
Along the way the Teks you face range from do-gooders to scumbags and everything in between. The power of this short novella is in the high quality writing which at times mirrors our current world in a stark way whilst including some witty moments and puzzles to be solved that require pen and paper, something I am very happy to do that brings back a sense of nostalgia!
There is clear tension with some subset of humans seeing Teks as taking their jobs and other frustrations as well as a who done it thread to solve. You have the option to be nice about things, sarcastic or to the point though all choices will eventually lead you down the same path – in this way the game is firmly on a linear track.
Once I reached the climax of this story about 2 hours in I did give it another go, unlocking the developers commentary which serves as an interesting look into the games design.
The first thing to strike me about Subsurface Circular was the music, it has a Tron like feel with robotic bass filled tracks produced by Dan Le Sac. Each of the 12 chapters has its own song and each was excellent.
The dialogue within the game is not voice acted which was a conscious decision, I can understand the move as giving characters a voice in a text adventure can lead to some odd sounding conversations, add to this the complexity it seems something that was not feasible though I wonder what the result would have been if they had included this.
We are given some short snippets in between stations by the train announcer which works well.
The audio lifts the game experience and was clearly a strong focus.
In Subsurface Circular we only ever get to see Teks which have been developed in a simplistic and yet detailed way.
Each Tek looks unique even though they don’t have a face as such, a reminder that whilst intelligent these are not humans.
The game is highly polished visually and without much scenery the developer has done a good job of providing a simple UI for chat with the hints of the world in which the game inhabits.
The game plays out in a simple and easy to understand way with a clean UI. With this Switch version we have the added benefit of touchscreen and of course portability. On the move the game plays just as well as docked.
At $5.99 in the US and £4.79 in the UK the game is priced at the level of a mobile game or a book. You will receive 2-3 hours of playtime for your money which seems a fair albeit short experience.
Most likely people will play through a second time and be done with this experience.
Decisions feel a little irrelevant