It’s been quite some time since Portal first came out. Ever since then, we have witnessed the release of similar games and even ones that feel more like walking simulators with the occasional puzzle thrown in for good measure. Now the time has come for another one to come out in the form of Superliminal.
Superliminal already has a slight advantage from the start, when compared to the competition, given that it doesn’t even take place in a real world. Instead, the story focuses on an individual that ends up taking part in an experimental dream therapy program. Obviously, the experiment doesn’t go as planned and soon it’s down to players to figure out a way out of it back to the real world.
The idea is to get through eight different layers (levels) in order to stop the character from being in a dream state forever. Although early layers are surprisingly tame, it becomes quite the wacky trip as players get closer to the end. One of the strongest aspects of Superliminal, is its willingness to really mess with the player’s mind. It’s often the case that the simplest way of approaching a puzzle will end up being the correct way to clear it and continue exploring the current layer.
Definitely don’t approach this game in the same manner as when tackling some of Portal’s physics based puzzles. One puzzle seemed like it required being able to somehow get a piece of fruit across a room and up a ramp, whilst avoiding a giant fan, but instead all it took to complete it was doing a simple and yet not very obvious action.
Occasionally, there is no clear indication of how a puzzle should be solved and it ends up making the process more frustrating than satisfying. Indeed, it’s almost laughable to realise that all it took to solve one of the more devilishly puzzles was to perform a simple action, after spending ages trying to come up with various complicated solutions. The idea is to think outside the box to change one’s perspective, but the way that puzzles are presented means that it doesn’t always work out quite as well when solving them.
It definitely doesn’t help that the game is so vague when it comes to how its puzzles are solved. At least once it seemed like a puzzle was solved in a manner that didn’t seem as intended, by forcing an object from another room through a door that is supposed to stop this action from happening. It did the trick and yet it also felt like cheating, but it’s not like the game makes a concerted effort to make it easier to figure out what is going on.
Now each of the layers is supposed to have a different meaning behind it that will help the player’s character in a certain way. However, most of the time spent exploring these layers makes it apparent that it’s not a particularly exciting dream and that there’s isn’t much to learn from the experience. It does occasionally have its moments when using some of the objects found to solve puzzles in more creative ways. One of the more interesting features is the use of these objects to make them bigger or smaller to solve puzzles. There’s also some neat tricks that do make for some memorable moments, such as the use of optical illusions to reveal new paths and objects.
Despite a better use of its dream setting with some more exciting puzzles to solve in the seconds half, there is no denying that it still doesn’t make the most of the setting. Specially during early moments when going through dull locations, like a hotel, whilst listening to the same boring music track that makes it very difficult to find a reason to keep going. It’s a shame to see Superliminal not making the most of its dream material, but at least it does somewhat make up for it with the occasional clever idea.