Robotic detective James One One boards the Subsurface Circular, a below ground train used by autonomous humanoid machines called Teks. To James’ left is an unresponsive Tek blaring intense music. To his right, a friendly looking Tek. Maybe they could help him…
“Do you know anything about the Red Tek everyone is talking about?” James asked. The friendly looking Tek responded, “All I know is you look like you could use the cool, powerful refreshment of ELITE brand energy cells!”
James quietly uttered a secret command phrase, resetting the Tek to system default mode. The now much less talkative Tek straightened, as if waking up from a dream. “Now,” James said, “tell me what you know about the disappearances…”
Playing a robotic detective aboard the titular train, the Subsurface Circular, players are tasked with uncovering a mystery. In a world populated by both humans and autonomous mechanized Teks, robots have begun mysteriously disappearing, and it’s up to our hero to find out why.
Like a cross between and the mystery of Agatha Christie’s famous novels, Mike Bithell crafts a techno-futurist short story depicting a world we all may soon inhabit; one in which human workers are largely replaced with robotic ones.
When a concerned Tek asks our cunning detective to look into the disappearance of a friend, he is drawn in to a world which causes him to question much of what he had taken for granted, and as the tale nears it’s conclusion, the game asks the same of the player.
GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS
Subsurface Circular is a puzzle adventure game meant to be played in a single sitting, with a playtime of around two hours.
Players will converse with the train’s many passengers, investigating various leads, discovering new information, and convincing Teks to aid him in his investigation. If the detective overhears key words, he can then use them to ask follow-up questions, slowly allowing him to draw closer to the truth.
Subsurface Circular has players navigating conversations with the many Teks boarding and disembarking the train, which keeps moving in real time while conversations are happening.
If you are involved in a conversation and another Tek’s stop arrives, they get up and leave, so players need to manage their time wisely if they want to follow every lead.
Conversations and menus are straightforward and stylish, which makes the game as easy to parse as it is a pleasure to play. Both traditional and touch controls are available, so players are free to choose whichever control method speaks to them.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
Like Mike Bithell’s other games, Subsurface Circular has a strong aesthetic, both visual and auditory.
Graphics in Subsurface Circular are clean and crisp, without feeling sterile or hollow. Each Tek has their own distinctive appearance and conversations are easy to navigate. I really couldn’t ask for more. The Circular is a more futuristic take on modern trains and trams, and the striking visuals and audio cues help sell the location.
The droning hum of the train as it hurries along the track as well as the cyclical vibrations add to the atmosphere, and allowed me to fully immerse myself in the world of the game from start to finish.
Music is another strong point, and like Thomas Was Alone and Volume before it, the soundtrack grabbed me, providing a fantastic backdrop to the unfolding drama, while remaining imminently listenable, and even catchy, during lulls in the action when the music and sound design is pushed to the forefront.
Subsurface Circular is excellent from a mechanical and storytelling perspective, but the game also has something to say about modern society, and the direction in which our technological advancements may be taking us.
In the world of Subsurface Circular, even passing comments by low-level Tek workers can hit close to home, with humans being depicted as the fearful creatures we often are, lashing out at those who are often not responsible for our suffering, real or perceived.
Overall, Subsurface Circular is an incredible game, and one that is well worth the time of any Switch owner. (Also, at $6, what the heck are you doing still reading this? Just go buy it and solve a great robot mystery! Isn’t that what you’ve always wanted out of life?)
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Ant Workshop
Developer – Bithell Games
Price – $5.99
Genre – Adventure, Puzzle
Size – 544 MB
Brian Barnett has loved video games ever since his uncle Jimmy introduced him to them at the ripe old age of five. His wife, Audrey, was also introduced to video games by her uncle, lending credence to Brian’s theory that behind every gamer, there is a cool uncle.
Since playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Brian has had a passion for Nintendo games. The first thing he did when he started earning money was save up and buy himself a Game Boy, and they quickly became inseparable. Through the years, this led to his special love of portable game consoles, so the release of the Switch is the perfect storm of Nintendo action he has been waiting for.
In addition to his gaming obsession, Brian enjoys playing drums, writing and listening to music, and hosting a weekly video game and nerd culture podcast.
He is an extrovert, and loves talking about and playing games with others, so let him know if you want to team up and play together!
Plays: Switch, New 3DS, SNES, NES, GBA, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita