The game — really a visual novel with light puzzle-solving elements through text — was released recently on the Switch, after coming out last year on Steam. It’s a short story from Mike Bithell, the creator behind Thomas Was Alone and Volume.
Bithell is one of my favorite indie creators, and Subsurface Circular fits in well with his previous work, despite being a functionally different game. The story is immediately engaging, moves fast and doesn’t get bogged down by things that don’t matter.
The player’s bot — known as James in my playthrough, though there are other choices — is a detective that begins investigating an off-the-grid case proposed to him by a fellow traveller, who is sad because a friend has disappeared.
During the ride you come into contact with a robot nanny, priest, soldier and more, as the story fills in the gaps on just how robots are used in this future society. There are easter eggs for fans of Bithell’s prior work, as well as some other current pop culture references.
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The tale comes to a satisfying conclusion, with an interesting take on the future of artificial intelligence and its role in society.
My only detraction in the game is that the text would sometimes pause during the flow of conversation. While this makes sense in the narrative, it felt at times like the pauses were simply padding the length of this brief game.
Subsurface Circular comes with a couple extras, such as director commentary and artwork examples. The music, too, is unobtrusive but fits in the game world.
I wholeheartedly recommend Subsurface Circular to fans of Bithell’s previous games, as well as science fiction and visual novels. It’s wholly text-based, so may not appeal to some, but if you give it a shot, I think you’ll find a thoughtful story worth experiencing.