Early on in Subsurface Circular, you are asked to provide your name. Where most games would pop a keyboard at this point, Subsurface gives you a handful of choices.
And this choice really sets the scene for what becomes a short journey into introspection, humanity, humility and choice. Subsurface Circular is an interactive text adventure that relies on on what’s between the lines -- just as much as what’s given.
The game, from Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell, is hard to categorize. There’s no gripping action or front-facing tense scenarios. There are no real cutscenes. The game is non-traditional, but succeeds in conversation.
If you don’t want to read. If you don’t want to experience this world through words, then this game is not for you. That being said, it is absolutely worth the investment.
The game is blanketed in references to sci-fi and robot lore, often times quoting the laws of Isaac Asimov. Humans are mentioned throughout, but it’s all about the Teks, the robot humanoids in this world. You are a Tek, and you spend the entire game on a train circuit known as the Subsurface Circular.
Throughout its seven chapters, your Tek meets 15 or so other robots, each labeled by name and profession, from detectives (like yourself) to “lovers,” fabricators and priests. You’re mission? To discover why Teks are disappearing and who or what is the cause.
It’s hard to lose track of your goals, as the game sports an ample hint system, guided text deduction (if you need it) and plenty of choices to explore. While most characters will eventually guide you through conversation to the next objective, it never feels forced.
You also have a bank of words and phrases that you learn through what is essentially interrogation. You use these keywords to pry info out of the other Teks, sometimes lying to get what you want. Other times, it’s to recite a reset code that will returns a Tek to factory settings. For some hard-up bots, this means getting information more easily.
Without spoiling it, the game offers you a final choice. From there, you get credits, and you’re left wondering what would have happened if you’d done things a little differently. Thankfully, the game lets you jump into any of its seven “sequences” at any point from the main menu.
When you complete the game the first time, you also unlock a commentary track that’s pretty wonderful as well.
Overall, if you’re looking for a short, interactive game that will make you feel something, Subsurface Circular is for you. It’s just another in a long line of great indie games making their way to the Nintendo Switch.
Subsurface Circular is now available on Nintendo Switch, iOS and PC.