The more I play the Switch, the more I appreciate its amazing offering of shorter experiences. From point and clicks, mobile app ports, and awesome narrative driven experiences, there are plenty of great games that can be beaten in a sitting or two. This is ideal for a lot of folks like me who love to be a part of video games but no longer have time to invest in 20+ hour titles. Subsurface Circular is a standout in that regard, taking no more than two or three hours to complete, but making its mark none the less. The title embraces a minimalistic approach gameplay wise, choosing to put all its focus into making what little scenery and actions you get to play a part in be incredibly polished. When robot workers start missing, it’s up the Subsurface Circulars very own robo-cop....err...detective to take on the case and get to the bottom of things.
Subsurface Circular is a text based adventure, one that see’s Tek Detective Beta One One fall down a mysterious rabbit hole when he takes on the case of a fellow Tek. Tek’s are a highly advanced series of robot’s, created with the intent of fulfilling jobs for humans, ranging anywhere from remedial to complicated. With hundreds of thousands now in circulation, Tek’s are a common place in everyday life. For 30 years, they have made their mark on the world, getting upgrades, having lives, but still remaining loyal to humanity. Though free, they are still destined to work. “Management” is where they get their directives, and essentially, gain their purpose in life. Some are incredibly smart, some are able to elicit emotion and “feel” in a way, while others are perfectly happy doing their jobs day in and day out. Detective Beta’s job is to solve cases that take place on the Subsurface Circular, the main form of transportation for Tek’s. It’s an underground, rapid transit subway that helps get Tek’s around in a jiffy. On a rather slow day, a yellow Tek sitting across from Beta peaks his curiosity when he mentions that Tek’s are suddenly going missing, including one close to him. Though it’s against managements wishes (detectives are only to investigate cases that they are assigned), Beta decides to investigate and try to make sense of things.
Players get to shape how Beta investigates throughout the games short but intricate story. Being a text based adventure, players spend their time talking and responding to other Tek’s. These responses shape who Beta is, ultimately reflecting on who you are and whether or not you care about the case. Now Beta is confined to the subway car, so there is no exploring. This means his best way to track down leads is by interacting with other passengers. From Tek priests, athletes, babysitters and more, there is a slew of characters you will get to engage with. There are some very “real” conversations that take place, even with the pretense being that Teks are not people, per se. Religion and politics are topics Teks talk (and care about for that matter), and even companionship. Robots are typically portrayed as cold, emotionless objects, but Subsurface Circular paints them in a new light.
Pressing Teks for info relevant to your case is sometimes as easy as just being upfront with them, but occasionally you will have to think outside the box. Subsurface Circular has a great way of allowing you to have an “inventory” of sorts, but it is with subjects as opposed to items. Talking with Teks will occasionally breed way to certain focus points, which can then be used to further the story. The narrative is very deep, with pacing happening effortlessly between chapters. It’s a fantastic sci-fi styled mystery that comes to a satisfying conclusion, but could not have been so gripping if it wasn’t for the stellar aesthetics.
Subsurface Circular is a damn good looking game, even in handheld mode. Its colors are sharp, realistic even, and stylized so cleanly. Nothing is overly flashy. It does not try to shove the future in your face, and even if it did, it would probably still come out great. The Tek’s have a great look to them, and I love that they are not humanoid in nature. Sure they have similar body shape, but with metal frames, no faces, and glossy paint, they fit somewhere between human and machine. It’s their personalities, displayed through the dialog, that makes them shine and feel even human. It’s beautiful to be quite honest, and one of the best showings of robot-kind I have seen in any game. In addition to the portrayal, the sound structure is damn good too. From the introduction song, to the catchy tracks that you catch other passengers listening to, it’s all composed so well by Dan Le Sac. He created a hell of a soundtrack for such a short lived title. But it is little details like that that make Subsurface Circle such a great experience. Those details even boil down to the JoyCons in the Switch port. When playing in handheld mode, you’ll notice that Ant Workshop and Bithell Games put some extra attention in the Switch’s port, and it paid off. When the subway car pulls into a station, you can feel it through the JoyCons in such a way that it is hard not to be excited by it. You can even feel a subtle whirr when passing by columns in the moving car. Its brilliant, and another fine example of how developers can take advantage of the technologically advanced controllers on the Switch. I freaking love it.
Bithell Games made a masterpiece in about half a year as far as I am concerned, and now Ant Workshop gets to bring it to the healthy and happy market on the Switch. I am more than happy to have got to play through this, and had I had the time, it would have been in one session. Regardless, its damn good, incredibly intriguing, and so well put together. In addition to playing out the story, you can go back through with developer commentary, as well as check out some of the games art. For $6, you cannot go wrong. It is less than a movie ticket, and almost more certainly more satisfying than most of the garbage that hits theaters nowadays anyways. As if the Switch was not already packed with quality titles, make room in your cabin for one more. Take a ride on the Subsurface Circular. It’s a trip you won’t regret nor will you forget.
*Note: A copy of the title was provided for the purposes of the review.
Final Score: 9.5/10
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