This system is given a light, psychological dimension through the brief musings of Dr. Glenn Pierce whose job at the SommaSculpt Dream Therapy Program is to guide patients through a lucid dreaming experience. Dr. Pierce offers his services to people struggling with self-doubt, envy, and other negative emotions rooted in social anxiety. “Perspective is everything,” is a phrase that recurs throughout Pierce’s program. When, as a patient, you deviate from this experience by accessing parts of the dream space you aren’t supposed to, you incur the ire of a robotic-sounding woman whose manner and voice bear no small resemblance to GlaDOS from “Portal.”
I felt ambivalent about much of “Superliminal’s” story line. I found the GlaDOS-sounding voice-over alternately distracting and mildly amusing in the way of a good impersonation. And Dr. Pierce’s mannered encouragements and observations failed to capture my ear. But that hardly matters because the experience of playing “Superliminal” recommends itself many times over. The ways in which it uses forced perspective and trump l'oeil illusions to evoke the subconscious is thrilling. In this game, an object that seems gigantic at a distance may, when viewed from a closer distance, be much smaller, whereas something that looks solid from one angle might appear shadowy from another.
The ways in which the scale of objects can be altered is given an active cast through a novel mechanic that’s unlike anything I’ve seen in a game before. Many objects in the game, from signs to chess pieces to architecture, can be made bigger or smaller by moving them in relation to your position. For example, if you pick up a chess piece and hold it away from you toward the floor you can make it smaller while hoisting it into the air and moving in the direction of the object will make it larger. This is not just a change in perspective, these actions actually change the scale of the object. This makes for some wonderfully surreal scenarios. You might find yourself in a room with an exit sign but no exit. Picking the sign off the wall, you can lift it up into the air and gradually make it bigger until the sign is big enough to use as a ramp that can be propped up against a wall allowing you to walk up and over the sides of the room as though it were a stage set.
Later puzzles in the game are even more trippy. One of my favorites involves finding a miniature representation of an environment you’re standing in that can be picked up and moved to another area, thus changing the location of where you’re standing. (To illustrate this example without completely giving the puzzle away, imagine standing in a house and then finding a tiny model of that house on a table which you move into a mouse hole. Then imagine walking out the door of the house into the mouse hole.) I’m tempted to list oodles of other examples that tickled my brain but I will refrain so that others may discover these spatial paradoxes for themselves.
“Superliminal” is dreamy, calming and mind-bending. This four-to-five hour game, which was developed by a tiny team over six years, should not be overlooked.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.
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