Superliminal takes place in the brain of an unnamed protagonist as they traverse their own dreams, receiving therapy while they are in there. Throughout the dream, you will hear from the doctor that’s in charge of your therapy and a disgruntled AI who seems to be constantly angry with the fact you are not completing the challenges to her expectations. It sounds a little bonkers, and it is, but being set in a dream gives the game freedom to bend reality, which is exactly what it Superliminal is all about.
Superliminal is a first-person puzzle game in which the basic premise is to move from room to room by solving the puzzles within. Where Superliminal differs from other games is the puzzles are based around perspective. For example, the goal may be to reach a door set halfway up a wall but the only tool you have at your disposal is a child’s toy block which is no bigger than a fist.
By manipulating the way in which you pick up the block, you can actually change the size by manipulating your perspective. By holding the block and looking down at the floor, your perspective is that the block is smaller and when you drop it, it will remain that size. The opposite end of the scale is to hold the block and look up in the air, which will change your perspective of the block making it look much bigger and when you release it, that is the size it will be. It sounds a little odd in words, so think of those pictures in which a person holds out their fingers so they are holding the sun….now imagine they can pluck the sun from the air and hold a tiny version in their hands. That’s pretty much the way Superliminal forces perspective in order for you to solve puzzles, a concept that is both novel and very fun to do.
As the game progresses, more mechanics are introduced such as lining up paintings in the environment in order to make objects real or making clones of objects to get around. The mechanics are interesting and to my knowledge, I don’t know of other games to use them in this way, and they are huge fun to use. The game makes you feel like a magician, able to pull off these tricks and there’s something immensely fun about turning a small wedge of Edam cheese into a ramp the size of a car!
Where Superliminal falls a little flat is the fact that although these skills are novel and great fun, the game limits you further and further as it progresses. At the beginning of the game, each room is a sterile testing space in which the only items in them can be interacted with. As the game advances and becomes more surreal, you move through more elaborate spaces filled with more objects, none of which can be interacted with.
This means that all the fun tricks you can use in earlier levels can only be used on certain objects. This often leads to an exercise in walking from object to object and holding your cursor over them in order to see what can be interacted with. This can become a little tedious as before you can start to solve the puzzle, you have to discern what you can use and what you can’t, making the later levels feel very restricted. It can feel like rather than having fun with the perspective mechanics, it is more an exercise in finding the way in which the game wants you to use which takes away any sense of freedom in what is already an extremely linear game. The game would have benefitted from a more sandbox-style premise, in which after learning all of these cool skills, the player is allowed to go nuts with whatever they can lay their hands on.
Overall, as puzzle games go, Superliminal does enough to stand out in a sea of similar games, with its novel premise and fun gameplay. The puzzles are well put together although sometimes it can suffer as the solution becomes clear when you can only manipulate one or two items in a room. I think it is also worth mentioning that other gamers have reported that the game can be buggy at times, although I did not have any negative experiences with the PS4 version. If you’re looking for a hidden gem in a sea of first-person puzzle games, Superliminal is definitely the one.