Superliminal - Secondhand Thoughts


Tags: First-Person, Walking Simulator, Puzzle, Linear Story

First, a mini-disclaimer. I did not purchase Superliminal or play through the game. I did, however, watch someone else complete it. Thus, gameplay-related satisfaction, frustration, and revelation doesn’t apply in my case. Even though I never had control of the game, I still found its content thought-provoking enough to warrant sharing. Hence, “Secondhand Thoughts.”

Also, there will be non-hidden spoilers. Read at your own discretion.

In Superliminal, the player traverses several dreams, always seeking the exit. What begins as a guided therapy test, turns into a mischievious little exploration, then – an anxious escape as both the environment and the narrator become more and more unreliable. The path to progress isn’t always laid out, so players must create their own by manipulating interactable objects. Those fond of The Stanley Parable, the Portal series, and Quantum Conundrum might enjoy this one as well.

Many of the mechanics in Superliminal rely on the player changing their in-game perspective. A chesspiece may appear small when held by a nearby table, but may appear large when held up against a far-off wall. A die may appear fragmented from one angle, but complete and interactable from another. A doorway may appear to lead out into the vast sky, but the sky is then revealed to be a human-sized cardboard cut-out.

Superliminal’s focus on manipulating perception and visual illusions is what made it fascinating to me. “Perception is Reality,” the game repeatedly reminds the player. Construct and deconstruct visual illusions to move forward.

Move forward, indeed. Because, despite the seemingly unending number of dreams the player witnesses, no matter how they solve or bypass each puzzle, in reality it all leads up to the game’s single ending: the realization that the entire dream therapy session was scripted. Exploration? To aid puzzle-solving, by encouraging players to test the perceived conventional limits of their environment. Escape? To foster confidence in the player’s independence, by removing trust and – subsequently, dependency – on another entity.

However omnious anything appears, there’s little to fear. Superliminal has a positive, heart-warming ending. Where it falls short, where every linear story falls short, is replayability.

To clarify, replayability has minimal effect on whether I like or dislike a title. Superliminal, Portal, Quantum Conundrum – I would consider lacking in replayability thanks to a linear plot development, but still decently entertaining games in terms of story and first-time gameplay. The Stanley Parable, despite its multitude of choices, still only has a finite number of endings. Amusing and confounding as those endings are, once they are thoroughly explored, it purges any reason to pick up the game again.

The other thing with linear story games is the lack of substance-driven updates / patches. Once the ending is reached, that’s pretty much it, full-stop. Sometimes there’s a DLC, a sequel, a prequel, a spin-off, or a spiritual successor, but there’s very little additional content for the fixed amount the player’s paid for that one game.

So, a lack of replayability makes it incredibly difficult for me to recommend that others pick up the game. Why bother spending money on or investing time in a game, when all the player’s choices are fixed, and when there is only one or a finite number of endings? Just watch a playthrough. Pull up a non-commentary 100% run, kick it up to 2X the speed, and you can breeze through the entire game in an hour or two.

Though, a compelling story and varied enough gameplay might be enough to offset a linear plot, perhaps. A number of my favorite games are RPGs with finite endings, and I’m thinking that an in-depth lore / world, and the unpredictable challenge of battles / combat might be the tipping factor.

:thinking:

Admittedly, after that long spiel, I not sure what sort of note I was planning to end this post on. :derpdorp:

I’m not really here to suggest that Superliminal change its story or gameplay to make it more marketable. I like its concept, and I like its execution; I think both were done superbly well (super-bly, eh? :sunglasses:). Most of its puzzles were more-or-less “original” or adapted from existing illusions (albeit repetitive, in certain areas). At the very least, the devs didn’t rely on copying-and-pasting M.C. Escher’s works into their game.

It caters to my interest in mind games and optical illusions, so I found it intruiging. I can’t say whether it’s worth $20, though, for a walking simulator with a single ending (estimated play time: 2 - 3 hours).

Check it out, if the .GIFs look interesting, I guess? It’s on Steam, if you’d like the firsthand experience. There’s also multiple commentary and non-commentary playthroughs of it on YT, for those on-the-fence about it.

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Worth noting that Superliminal is actually in this month’s Humble Choice, so you can get it plus 11 other games for $12 if you’re a new subscriber (or $20 if you’ve subscribed previously).

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Is there a game with infinite endings?

I just found this thread so pardon the delay.

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:thinking:

Perhaps not, strictly speaking.

But I maybe should have phrased my meaning better to also include “definite” – a finite number of definite endings. And the core of that phrasing is to explain replay value from my perspective.

Games that avert this finite, definite ending(s) usually fall into the RPG, or ongoing story category. Take Final Fantasy XIV, for instance, or the Mass Effect / Dragon Age series. Final Fantasy XIV is an MMORPG, and one very compelling advantage of MMOs is that the game and the story never ends, so long as story-related expansions and patches keep being released. As for the Mass Effect / Dragon Age series, single-player RPGs with multiple choices, one could argue that it also counts as a finite, definite ending(s) sorta game. I would agree – if BioWare definitively stopped making games (rumors of a follow-up to ME: Andromeda and DA: Insquisition), comics, side stories, and other content related to the franchise. That’s not the case, of course. So long as the story continues and has no definitive ending, that provides a reason to revisit the the ME and DA series – to relive key, crucial moments that the stories are based on or make references to. FFXIV, ME, and DA give the player incentives to keeping playing or to replay the game.

By contrast, once The Stanley Parable and Superliminal are fully explored (e.g. all achievements unlocked), there’s no continuation to the story and little reason to pick up the game again. The game leaves the player on a full stop, rather than leaving them some food for thought.

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