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Perception is Reality

Superliminal is a first person puzzle game released in November 2020 by Pillow Castle. Here's the gimmick, you are undergoing Somnasculpt Therapy; which is some kind of deliberately induced and externally shaped lucid dream with the goal of generating a psychological breakthrough. It's unclear what issues the protagonist is working through by solving puzzles but the whole process is a bit hand-wavy and it's really just a pretext for the game play where you use the dream rules to progress. For instance, objects held by the player maintain their size visually and their initial position within your visual field assuming they aren't occluding anything. This means that the absolute size of said objects changes. Making objects bigger or smaller is a core element of the game and remains so throughout but it hardly the only one. Objects duplicate in places, are painted on the walls as textures, break into pieces, and otherwise fail to behave consistently. Object permanence, the laws of perspective, and a lot of common sense all go out the window. If this sounds trippy that's because it is.

If you've played Portal you'll be familiar with the pattern of moving into a space and needing to solve some basic puzzle to escape from the room to move to the next area. The initial part of the game even has a very portal aesthetic to it. As the game progresses you are introduced to new mechanics like duplicating objects. Unlike a lot of other first person puzzle games I've played I wouldn't say any of the puzzles are terribly complex or require much in the way of complex reasoning. Most are either easy or relying on one brief flash of insight. This game is about curiosity and surprise not reasoning and effort. That's not to say there isn't effort in places but it's a pretty breezy game over all. This is supported by the settings. Most of the levels look like hotels, art galleries, cafeterias, and maintenance tunnels made of endlessly connected hallways and side passages. They do however conform to the general dream logic. Doorways flush with the ceiling rather than the floor, giant objects, odd layouts that lack any obvious function apart from providing a puzzle. The sound track is mostly smooth jazz which supports the overall tone of a balance of chill and the unreal. The whole game can be played in one sitting over the course of about three or four hours and I'd suggest doing just that for the pure experience.

If I had to praise this game on any one thing it does it would be that the dream logic leaks out into the design of the game. There are places where I'm pretty sure they left defects just to make the game seem more surreal. One that stands out is an extremely thin slice of space where the music from a previous and adjacent area plays. Is this a mistake or intentional. It looks sloppy but it adds to the dream like quality that's supposed to suffuse the game so who knows. Price wise it's a bit high for such a short game but the extent of Easter eggs, achievements, and a developers commentary make for a significant extension on play time for completionists. Steam page here, sound track here, and play through here.

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