Subsurface Circular has taken me by complete surprise. It was a game that I had never heard before its release on the Nintendo Switch. While I have played the previous games by Mike Bithell, the creator of Subsurface Circular, I somehow completely missed this little indie gem from him that is a perfectly constructed narrative adventure putting you in the shoes of a robotic detective that is attempting to solve a mystery.
Subsurface Circular feels like an indie movie in execution. You might remember some of the cult classic movies that manage to keep the audience so engrossed in them that despite being shoot and set in a single location, you can’t help but pay attention to the story and dig into the background of each character. Subsurface Circular is basically this concept in a video game form that takes you on a journey into a futuristic world by tasking you to solve the mystery of the disappearance behind robots in an underground subway station.
The story is mostly set in a futuristic setting where humans have now fully functional worker robots that are used to deal with some of the everyday tasks. These robots are called ‘Tek’ and the lead character is one such Tek who has been assigned the role of a detective. Normally humans have programmed robots to follow a set directive however the game lets you break from the assigned programming protocol or so called ‘prime directive’ as you take the plea of a fellow robot to attempt to solve the mystery of disappearing Teks in the subway station.
The gameplay is pretty simple. The game mostly plays like a text-based adventure however the mechanics are now modernized. Your choice matters in what kind of dialogue you can speak with a character. You will gradually unlock new type of choices in the dialogue option which will lead to fresh information being relayed to your character. This will be then used to solve a set of objectives. Most of the objectives are easy to complete however sometime you will also have to figure out puzzles by helping other robots in order to unlock more of the ‘focus points’ for conversation.
The story and writing is generally clever, also poking fun at some of the Asimov’s robotic laws that are well regarded in fiction by now. The issue with the story is that despite the illusion of choice, the narrative basically follows a single linear path leaving next to no room for a potential replay value. It is an enjoyable experience nonetheless and something that is definitely worth the price tag, which is super cheap compared to some other indie games at just $5.99.
This is a short experience that can clock in around 2 hours if you go through the main story. It might be a small game but the price point is extremely fair for the type of content it offers. One of the neat little addition that I noticed with the Nintendo Switch version was the use of HD rumble to simulate the experience of travelling in the train, which is implemented perfectly. The ending of the game is executed well but with not much incentive to replay the story again, since you will already have experienced most of what the game has to offer.
Subsurface Circular Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Inspired by classic adventure games and modern dialogue systems, Bithell Games has created a single session story which respects your time and your intelligence.
This feels like a passion project that is extremely polished. It might not offer much replay value but as a brief experience, it is worth its asking price.