Subsurface Circular Review

Many novels, films, and other media have explored the themes of the emotions, motivations and rights of sentient robots in humanity's near future. These elements drive the story machinery of Subsurface Circular, a text adventure/mystery that just barely qualifies as a game. Although it has stellar production values within its limited scope, the heart of Subsurface Circular is not combat or gameplay, but narrative.

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Since that narrative is the entire reason to play the game, we'll just say that the story takes place on an underground subway train and consists entirely of dialogue between various Teks (robots) as a the player character -- a detective Tek --  tries to solve the mystery of a Tek gone missing. That simple premise escalates into a much wider and more complex conspiracy. Negotiating through the most fruitful line of inquiry with each new Tek sometimes involves a bit of puzzle solving and finding a path through a conversation.

Each Tek is well defined, and through the story, we learn much about the form, function and even culture of the Teks. As a game that is entirely dependent on well-constructed dialogue and a tightly conceived story, Subsurface Circular generally succeeds, though some of the responses are pithy to the point of being bland. Only a couple of hours long and not offering much in the way of replayability, the game wastes no time in establishing its premise and engaging the player.

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While the Teks lack faces and thus, expression, there are some telling differences in body language between them The game looks and sounds great, with a subtle ambient score that never intrudes but provides a bit of background interest as one reads the text. Environmental audio is also well done. Although the scope of the game makes it a natural fit for the Switch, it becomes fatiguing to read so much small text on the console in handheld mode, making it more comfortably experienced on the big screen with a Pro controller, which is a shame. Subsurface Circular is very much akin to a short story or novel, and the scale of the handheld fits its ambitions.

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Anyone who is impatient with dialogue trees or likes to skip through the text in games will not enjoy Subsurface Circular, which is purely a text adventure and mystery. The story and setting were interesting, but the scope of the gameplay was fairly narrow and the experience was not really repeatable. A bite-sized game that seems well-matched to the Switch, it suffers from the Switch's small text display. Still, Subsurface Circular is an intriguing glimpse into a near future that is all too easily imagined.