Superliminal Review

Developer: Pillow Castle
Publisher: Pillow Castle
Music: Matt Christensen
Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Released: November 12, 2019 (Windows), July 7, 2020 (Others)
Genre: First Person Puzzle

Are you filled with feelings of self-doubt? Do you find yourself prone to minimizing massive dilemmas or for allowing the smallest problems to get blown completely out of proportion? At the Pierce Institute, our patent-pending SomnaSculpt technology provides safe and effective dream therapy while you rest in the comfort of our flagship clinic.

SomnaSculpt: We’ll make your dreams come true!

A first-person puzzle game, you play as a client experiencing dream therapy. Many are familiar with ‘dream logic’, where impossible things happen, strange rules are accepted, and you just don’t really know what could happen next. Superliminal is like that.

Doors appear and disappear. Objects can appear flat, but become 3D with just the right angle. Big objects become small, and vice versa. It’s a topsy turvy world, and within it you must solve puzzles in order to progress, with the friendly voice of Glenn Pierce reassuring you, and the less-friendly robotic voice of the orientation system coaching you, to guide the way. The environment is clinical, but friendly. Safe, interesting, and just a little bit silly.

Until… something goes wrong. And you find yourself solving puzzles not just to progress, but to escape, with the dream becoming more and more confusing, erratic, with the still-calm voice of Glenn Pierce trying to help you, but it comes with a sense of someone trying to keep a level-head while things go very, very wrong.

The main mechanic of the game is the utilisation of ‘forced perspective’. Real life examples include when people take photos of themselves with the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background, staged in such a way that it looks like they’re holding it up.

In Superliminal, that is turned up to 11. If you pick up or place an object further away from yourself, it becomes bigger. If you move it closer, it becomes smaller. With this you can create platforms to climb up on, enter toy-like buildings, or even shrink yourself down, and vice versa.

You’ll find objects painted in perspective, or in pieces, and you have to align yourself just so in order to bring that object to life. Floors won’t exist unless you put something on it, sometimes objects will duplicate instead of being moved or manipulated. I had a particularly challenging time in a room with a giant apple. The game teaches you to look around, literally change your perspective, and knowing that you must solve each puzzle. Some are a bit easier than others, there’s a few rooms where I found myself walking around in circles, trying to find the moment when the solution would just click.

But sometimes I would have a literal headache, trying everything I could think of, wandering around, hoping for the solution to reveal itself. A couple of times I would solve it by accident, with a sense of ‘oh… that was it?’.

It is mindboggingly clever how they managed to execute these mechanics, and for the first few minutes I just played around, marvelling at it and all its possibilities. And for the most part it was utilized in really fun and clever ways. I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the game, into the dream, as things got more and more twisted, unpredictable, progressing and finding a way forward somehow while feeling like the ground I stood on was about to fall beneath me at any moment, like the crumbling edge of a cliff.

The auditory experience was at odds with the erratic world I was experiencing, but it kept me grounded. The music was relaxing, clinical, like something you would hear in the waiting room at the dentist. It was understated, easy to tune out, but it always reminded me that I, the player, was definitely within a clinic at all times. Trapped within dream therapy. That relaxing jazz music felt quite sinister as the game progressed.

In addition, there are sounds specifically for giving you a sense of scale. You’ll hear a cute little boop sound when you pick up or drop objects, however you’ll realise just how gigantic you made the object as the sound of it falling fills the room. It’s not when it hits the ground, it’s when it’s falling through the air. What does that sound like? Like a big thing falling.

I enjoyed playing Superliminal, it was a lot of fun, with a lovely, consistent artstyle that ties everything together, an impressive feat as you see how lighting, tone, and setting changes throughout the game. The usage of forced perspective as a mechanic is fascinating, and unique. I love unique, when it’s executed well. It didn’t hold my hand, the game already told me everything I needed to know to solve these puzzles. I started off curious and excited to even more curious and nervous when the tone of the game shifted.

But it felt like there could’ve been more. More depth, more symbolism, more story. It felt anti-climatic. But thinking on it further, the ending wasn’t bad, and I liked the message it presented. I finished the game feeling cheated. It’s all just a dream, right? But…I’ve been thinking, does that make the dream unimportant?

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 5th of August 2020

Riot Ubisoft and Halo Infinite

Riot’s LEC league nearly partners with an openly anti-LGBT sponsor

An announcement from NEOM which is a city created by the Saudi Arabian government, that was born under a regime that comes with a history of human rights abuses that includes persecution of LGBT people. Many involved with Riot including esports casters, players and developers were speaking out against the partnership in troves. This all comes after not just last year Riot Games were accused of a toxic and sexist company culture. Fortunately, however Riot have tanked the partnership with NEOM due to the community outrage. Riot have released a statement saying, “As a company and as a league, we know that it’s important to recognize when we make mistakes and quickly work to correct them. After further reflection, while we remain steadfastly committed to all of our players and fans worldwide including those living in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, the LEC has ended its partnership with NEOM, effective immediately.”

Halo Infinite developers 343 Industries are getting flack for their recent revel at Xbox Games Showcase

Many complaints have been flooding in about Halo Infinites lighting, low texture details and overall flat graphics. 343 Industries have addressed the issue in a community update, John Junyszek the Community Manager has said, “We do have work to do to address some of these areas and raise the level of fidelity and overall presentation for the final game,” he says. “The build used to run the campaign demo was work-in-progress from several weeks ago with a variety of graphical elements and game systems still being finished and polished. While some of the feedback was expected and speaks to areas already in progress, other aspects of the feedback have brought new opportunities and considerations to light that the team is taking very seriously and working to assess.” There still isn’t a solid release date for Halo Infinite due to come out in Summer this year.

Ubisoft update Tommy Francois is officially no longer with the company

Tommy Francois was Ubisoft’s vice president of editorial & creative services, Business Insider reported on the situation stating that ‘sources with knowledge of the matter’ claim that Tommy was fired following the investigation, that is a number of harassment and abuse allegations pointed at Tommy, however Ubisoft have not disclosed the nature of his departure, so for now it stands as speculation. Francois’ departure comes after several other executives stepped down including vice president Maxime Beland, head of human resources Cecile Cornet and chief creative office Serge Hascoet.

Samsara Room

Developer: Rusty Lake & Cube Escape
Publisher:
Rusty Lake
Music:
Victor Butzelaar
Platforms:
Mobile (iOS & Android), PC (Windows & Mac)
Released:
20th April 2020 (Remake)
Genre:
Point & Click Adventure, Puzzle, Interactive Narrative, Escape Room

Where am I?
Is this the circle of life?
I have to find a way out.

Rusty Lake’s unorthodox escape room thriller Samara Room is unlike most games of this genre. It’s eerie, contemplative, and abstract. I should also mention that there is a shapeshifting, inter-dimensional, deep diving into a stream of consciousness theme in this one so, it can be a bit of a confusing rollercoaster. Set in 1935 following the events that have taken place in Rusty Lake: Roots (prequel game to Samsara Room), you follow William Vanderboom’s rebirth through an interesting reincarnation life and death cycle. Samsara Room features lots of different puzzles not seen in the original and shows lots of new narrative that fits in with the Rusty Lake series. Rusty Lake do an amazing job of directing you towards clues or a puzzle to solve, they also use a simplistic 2D art style that makes me think of magazine cartoon cut outs. The main plot needs little explanation because this type of game’s fate is determined by your own personal experience but due to the nature of the story and it’s bizarre experiences, I’m not even sure I can fully explain what IS happening.

From a gameplay perspective Samsara Room is relatively straightforward, you start off by climbing into a hole behind a painting and then you re-emerge into a world without gravity. From that point onwards you begin gathering information about your where abouts and how to get out of one room and into the next. This point and click style escape room feels more like an interactive narrative with some ‘thrillery’ vibes. Obviously the game is designed in a way where you must look for clues and things out of place that might guide you to the next stage of the narrative.

Samara Room is wonderfully designed, it really encourages you to think about what is happening whilst providing weird and strange scenes that you struggle to understand. Meanwhile you are not even paying attention to all the hours going by in real life because you become so engrossed in finding the next clue or item that might lead you to whatever creepy place you end up. If you do play this game without any context to previous Rusty Lakes games like I did you might find yourself very confused and it would appear to have no backstory or nothing to frame the narrative with. In saying that I still played the game all the way until the end because it was so interesting and odd that I had to know what happens despite not fully understanding its context. The reason for that is simple, Samara Room has a seemingly magical ability to pull you in with intrigue, holding your attention with confusing riddles that seemingly pulls you further into the mysterious mind of the Rusty Lake developers. There are also odd objects that you find in these rooms such as worms, feathers, the Sun, and the moon, even a dead person.

The combination of easy to use gameplay mechanics and hypnotizing music captivates you entirely. Victor Butzelaar’s composition is delicate using sparing strokes of piano keys and subtle atmospheric sounds for each room you enter. The music helps you concentrate on the scene at hand whilst simultaneously keeping you on edge. There are 15 other games by Rusty Lake & Cube Escape that are all part of this overarching series or sinister and peculiar themes, they are mostly free and deeply fascinating. Here is an order to play the games in from the Rusty Lake subreddit that might help provide some guidance for newbies.

I must say even though I had little understanding about what was happening originally and after further research Samsara Room is one of many doors into the mind of the developers Rusty Lake and Escape Cube. If you like a bizarre indie game that takes you on a journey into the unknown using symbols and analogies to depict life and death, I highly recommend this game and anything else that comes from the Rusty Lake series.

Reviewed by Evie Gibbons @eviezgames on 29th of July 2020

Time for a Clean Up

A complaint posted on Glassdoor reports burnout and crunch at Respawn

Glassdoor is a reviews website where both current and previous employees can share their experiences about working at a company. The complaint was posted by a current full-time employee at Respawn who are the developers of Apex Legends, the post details that the studio was struggling with the negative side effects on businesses relating to COVID-19. A snippet of the lengthy review says, “Mostly every other company has extended project deadlines to accommodate for lower efficiencies and general stresses or anxiety during COVID-19, but not on the Apex project. I feel extremely stressed and burnt out trying to keep our seasonal releases on the same aggressive timeline as pre-shelter in place productivity. I currently work 12 – 13 hours a day and there is no separation between my home and work life.” Chad Grenier Respawn’s Apex game director has acknowledged the studio struggled during the pandemic, he further addresses the complaint on Reddit saying that he insisted that Respawn has always had it’s employees best interested and health in mind however the transition to working remotely was very hard on the team.

Ubisoft has a plan to address the studio’s culture of misconduct

Over the last month Ubisoft has been dealing with immense backlash from the game’s community over a number of its employees being named as abusers, those employees have either been dismissed or resigned. Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot has said, “I am determined to make profound changes in order to improve and strengthen our corporate culture. We already have acted swiftly and firmly, announcing, and introducing large scale initiatives intended to transform our organisation.” Yves plans of using a five-part plan to ensure the safety and inclusivity of all its employees. Below is a screenshot for Gamasutra’s report of the Plan.

U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) wants to stop U.S. military recruiting through Twitch

AOC is determined to stop the Army, the Navy and the Airforce from putting its messaging in front of impressionable young people and children, she tells Vice, “War is not a game, and the Marine Corps decision not to engage in this recruiting tool should be a clear signal to the other branches of the military to cease this practise entirely.” The reps for New York’s 14th congressional district filed a draft amendment that should prevent the military from using funds from the House of Appropriations bill to maintain presence on Twitch or any video game, esports, or living streaming platform. The Committee is due to meet this week let’s see how it all turns out.

That’s all this week in gaming news.

COVID-19 Effects, Games Archive and What’s Next

How COVID-19 has affected the games industry

Due to a recent survey conducted by Game Developers Conference (GDC) 33% of it’s developers reported that the game they were working on has been delayed, having to relocate working from home has been the largest contributing factor. In the report 70% of the developers had to make that move from the beginning of the pandemic. Some studios reported that the move to working remotely went smoothly, however some partnered companies who lagged behind were responsible for their delays.

Other reasons for delays that were reported included barriers to accessing required hardware such as gaining access to development kits which can be highly policed by companies for security reasons. There were also struggles to record voiceovers and audio work for home and not to mention the ambient stress that pandemics can cause. For developers that didn’t have delays 41% claimed they had felt their productivity drop because of the lockdown. 35% said their creatively decreased and 26% said they have seen a decrease in their household income. However, on a positive note 12% of people have said they will no longer work in an office environment and prefer to work from home even after a vaccine is released.

Hundreds of free to play unreleased prototype games have become available

Some of the most iconic games such as Double Dragon, Street Fighter 2, Mega Man 3, AKIRA, Prince of Persia, Dr Mario, NBA JAM, Killer Instinct and many more have been uploaded to Internet Archive and anyone can download to play. This archive contains 934 ROMs playable on any browser and stretch from 1983 to 2001. Some of the games uploaded by The Hidden Palace which are a video games preservation wiki include Spyro The Dragon, and Earthbound (Mother 2) from an EPROM cartridge. If you’d like to look at the Internet Archive click here.

What’s coming up for the Summer Games Fest

On July 23rd Microsoft Xbox Games Showcase will be featured on loads of different streaming platforms that include Twitch, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook pages. Where we will be getting a sneak peak into Halo Infinite as well as appearances from Hellblade II, Psychonauts 2, and potentially Everwild.

Gamescom have their Opening Night Live hosted by Geoff Keighley on the 27th of August and in September PAX Online begins which will be replacing PAX West and PAX Australia this year. PAX Online will span 9 days and contain 24-hour content from September 12th to the 20th.

If you’d like more details on the schedule click here.

P.A.M.E.L.A.

Developer: NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Publisher: NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Music:  NVNVYVE® StudiosYVE® Studios
Platforms: PC
Released: 18th June 2020
Genre: Survival Action, Horror, FPS

You wake up from cryo-sleep, it’s dark, with flashing monitors. A gentle voice speaks out to you, from PAMELA, a benevolent AI, who explains. Her city, Eden, a utopia where petty crime was a rare event, has fallen. Her people infected by a horrific disease. They tore each other apart, tipping a paradise into darkness.

But you are her hope. A human free from the disease, kept in stasis, she has woken you up to find out what happened, and to put an end to it.

A first person survival horror game, P.A.M.E.L.A. forces you to keep moving, keep seeking, and to keep on alert. With the dark atmosphere, minimal information, and constant danger, this isn’t a game for the faint of heart.

P.A.M.E.L.A. will tell you the controls, and a bit about the items you find, but it doesn’t hold your hand. And it can be quite brutal. Every encounter could be your last.

With dozens of tools and resources you can find and utilise,it takes everything you can to survive. You’ll have to look after your thirst and hunger metre, but also the electricity in the buildings you explore. Resource management is an extremely valuable skill. You’ll also find yourself hacking, scavenging, hiding, and fighting. It’s a lot to keep track of.,

But even when you die, the respawn system allows for you to upgrade and improve your character. With time you can unlock new areas and their cryo-pods, so you don’t lose as much progress, and the game encourages you to keep going, with tantalizing bits of information giving you insight into what happened, and just who PAMELA is.

The audio experience is quite minimal, it’s very quiet, except for when it isn’t. That’s when I know it’s time to be cautious. Muttering and heavy breathing signals that I need to start coming up with an alternative route. Heavy metal footsteps make me jump, but these are more subtle sounds. I find myself relying on my ears more than my eyes at times. It’s a very tense experience. And the music that does play is to highlight the environment, and what you’re seeing.

Upon my first attempt, I was confused, overwhelmed, and just a little bit terrified. My first death was sudden, and took me by surprise.

During my second attempt, I had a better idea of what I was doing and what I needed to do. I went even further than before, and became more confident in my actions, but also more cautious: fighting was something to avoid. This death honestly hurt a bit, but I was determined to do better.

During my third attempt I had found my stride, figured out the pattern, and I was making speedy progress. Not all of it was lost, but I had to keep pushing forward to keep the game moving. I had set goals for myself, making more cautious decisions, even taking the effort to find a safer detour if an enemy was in my way.

I was having fun, enjoying the story, and I needed to find out what exactly had happened. I was hooked.

That’s not to say it is a perfect game, I ran into frustrating glitches with the UI, enemies pathfinding was laughable at times, and some minor controls would just stop working and sometimes I felt like I was play-testing.

But, it is a very compelling game, and I find myself thinking about it a lot. Bugs aside, it’s easy to see why fans of the game are so devoted to it. It’s interesting, challenging, and a very rich world, all for you to uncover.

Now, one of the things I’ve noticed is that the team are constantly updating this game. I actually had a very frustrating time with bugs on my first run, but within a week a lot of those bugs were resolved with an update. This is a studio that cares about the health of their game!

Reviewed by Zahra Pending @Degari_rose on 15th July 2020