Subsurface Circular is one of those games that kept me thinking about the topics it touched long after I put it down. It asks questions about where AI and androids will take our human society; and if those deeply human questions about existence might also be asked by AI in the future.
The game is created by Mike Bithell’s game studio. He was also responsible for the amazing Thomas Was Alone. Subsurface Circular is marketed as a short game. You can get through the game in around 2 hours. After the first playthrough the creator commentary mode is made available. This might incentify a second playthrough.
On the outside Subsurface Circular is a detective story in 6 acts. A detective story where all participants are androids and that takes place in a subway car. There is no walking around and no other interactivity other than dialogs. It is just like an intimated play in a theatre: One room where a very limited number of actors tell a tightly knit story.
Nonetheless this room, the subway wagon, is rendered perfectly and could be straight out of a futuristic FPS. The same goes for the androids – called TEKs. Each TEK is unique in appearance and worth remembering.
All interaction with the other androids is done similar to Telltale games conversation options. Subsurface Circular put an interesting twist into the conversation as it provides means to steer the conversation in a particular direction. Conversation will turn into puzzles the further you progress through the acts. While the first act is just world building and setup the following acts require you to extract clues from one android and use them in other conversations to solve puzzles.
The puzzle conversations are unique, sometimes thought provoking or plain funny. The writing for the conversations is exellently done. You learn about the consequences of adding AI and androids into a human society. There are consequences for humans and androids alike. There is no moral imperative that the game tries to push into your face. You pretty much have to make up your mind on how human and android co-existence should go. That is the final decision of the game and that is where your detective story will take you.
One thing worth mentioning is that one of the TEKs you talk to adopted a religion: Thomatosim. This religion is build around the story of Thomas the rectagle from Thomas Was Alone. And here once again fun and serious tones mix. Make up your own mind if human constructed AI could or would adopt religion. And if it could or would what would be the center of it.
The only real regret I have for this game is its sound or better the lack of it. While I can live with no voice-acting for the all conversations due to budget constraints I cannot forgive a real soundtrack. A good ambient soundtrack could have made this absolutely amazing.
Subsurface Circular is an interesting visual novel turned video game. I is very well written, rendered in perfection and good for one sitting. It is not an amazing game but great enough to get one thumb up from me.
20 years of coding and working as software engineer but I am still eager to learn more. I am very passionate when it comes to open source, Linux and Java. But I made my peace with Windows long ago to fully enjoy my PC gaming hobby. I have a soft spot for 90s electronic music and Babylon 5. In the evenings you will find me roaming the endless space in Warframe (IGN k05h).