/Played is a regular post where I dissect and discuss a game I’ve recently played.
Today I’m taking a look at Subsurface Circular by Bithell Games, currently 2 hours on Steam…
Subsurface circular is a text based adventure / narrative game where you play a robot detective riding the subsurface circular, a transport system reminiscent of London Underground. On your travels you speak to several other robots and slowly unravel the mystery of missing Teks (The name for robots in the world). Subsurface is developed by Bithell Games (Thomas Was Alone, Volume) and is available on Steam.
The first thing to note about Subsurface Circular is that it is a relativity brief game, my play-through lasted roughly 2 hours (hence the current playtime). There are some binary choices involved and developer commentary available so you could argue that it does have some replayability. Although, I’m sure you could cover all the content available in two or three play through’s.
However as a short experience the game really excelled. It doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
The world above
Subsurface Circular does a brilliant job of setting the atmosphere.
The music, train announcer, ambient sounds and audio effects (various robotic UI beeps and boops) combine to create an audio backdrop that very much makes you feel as if your riding on a futuristic London Underground.
Bithell Games has also named the stations using tech terminology with a sprinkling of words commonly seen in British station names such as Arch, Temple and park, a very minor and aesthetic touch, but one that goes a long way of cementing the games setting.
Combined with the live map and coming and going of other Tek passengers, it perfectly sets the scene and gives the player the feeling of a larger world just beyond the carriages of the Subsurface Circular.
It’s clear from the get-go, Subsurface Circular was a game developed with constraints. What the constraints were it’s impossible to say, but they have definitely turned this to the games advantage. The space is well realised and the lack of physical definition given to the characters means their personalities are presented primarily through their speech, exactly what you would want for a conversation heavy text based adventure.
Navigating the chat trees
Figuring out how to push the narrative forward is the core aspect of the game.
As you navigate through the chat trees you are awarded with “focus points”. Once unlocked these reveal various topics that can be used in other conversations. Talk to one Tek to unlock a specific focus point, then use that focus point on a Tek you had previously talked to to advance the narrative, and variations of this mechanic. However, you must say the correct things to each Tek to unlock focus points.
A drawback of this is you can brute force your way through the game, select enough chat options and you’ll eventually get the right one.
A tight and polished experience
Overall Subsurface circular is a polished and tight experience with a great narrative. Progression and choice are handled well, coupled with excellent writing it succeeded in keeping me hooked through to the end.