Subsurface Circular (Review)
Subsurface Circular is an unusual piece of interactive fiction, sort of a cross between a visual novel and a text adventure game. You see the location you’re in–an underground train from which the game gets its title–and the characters present for the scene, but aside from selecting who you’d like to talk to, the gameplay is conducted entirely through dialogue.
The game is set in a world where robots known as Teks now co-exist alongside humanity and have taken on many jobs. This theme is key to the story, and it takes a solid look at AI and their interactions with humans (including the idea that humans are predisposed to fear Teks because of how often fiction portrayed evil AI and robot uprisings). You play a detective Tek who begins an unauthorized investigation when another Tek asks him to look into the disappearance of his friend. All of the characters you interact with are Teks, but your conversations with them gradually give you an idea of what this futuristic world is like.
You choose dialogue options to progress through each conversations, and important topics are added to your list of “Focus Points.” Focus Points are topics that you can ask any Tek about. By speaking with multiple Teks and gaining new Focus Points, you’ll be able to get the information you need. There are a handful of riddles to solve, but most of the gameplay involves figuring out how to advance conversations, such as questioning a Tek who has been programmed to advertise a product at every opportunity. While these dialogue-based puzzles aren’t particularly challenging, it’s an entertaining twist on the usual format.
The conversations have some entertaining moments, and it’s interesting to gain an understanding of the world despite remaining in a single location. At the end, you have a final choice that is genuinely difficult to make, with compelling arguments on both sides. However, the sudden introduction of a binary choice feels slightly rushed and contrived, and the game ends immediately after you choose. It’s still a thought-provoking scene, but it almost feels like the reason you have only two choices is for the sake of drama.
Subsurface Circular is a short game, taking about two hours to complete. This is intentional, and the developers even recommend you play the game in a single sitting. It feels like a short story in video game format, and although it falters at the end, it’s an enjoyable mystery to work your way through. If you enjoy futuristic settings that involve robots and AI, and if you like dialogue-driven games, Subsurface Circular is worth a look.