Superliminal review: what a trip

Superliminal is a game about navigating dreams, and as such it’s a place where logic has absolutely no business poking its nose in. It’s delightfully weird, constantly surprising and eminently unforgettable.

The story is that your character is undergoing some kind of dream therapy at a clinic called SomnaSculpt. But something goes wrong, and you end up outside the therapy program, trapped in a series of ever stranger dreams. Every now and then you’ll come across a message from the therapist, telling you not to panic, but they’re not sure exactly where you’ve gone, and they’re trying to get you back. In feel, it’s very similar to Portal: an experimental setup where you end up running around behind the scenes, although in this case you’re armed with dream logic rather than a portal gun. And the corridors here are elongated and fantastically twisted hotel rooms, the perfect example of a liminal space. It’s somewhere that’s not wholly home and not wholly foreign, but some uneasy mix of the two.

The game’s main trick is messing with perspective. If you pick up, say, an apple, you can make it huge by putting it down in the far corner of the room. It’s kind of hard to explain, but it’s basically Father Dougal’s logic made flesh in a video game. If a cow looks big because you’re holding it close to your face, it is, in actual fact, massive. Take a look at the video at the bottom of this review to see what I mean.

Once the game has established this logic-bending perspective, it gleefully twists and plays with your expectations. There are nine dreams in total, each divided into a series of puzzle rooms, and each one brings its own set of new rules and surprises. On one level, reaching out to pick up an object spawns a clone of it instead. Another uses shadows to hide objects in plain sight. Yet another employs looping passageways that enable you to shrink yourself down or become enormous.

I’ve just finished Ghost of Tsushima, a game that very much looks to emulate movies. I enjoyed it, but it was also mired in the tried and tested mechanics of the open-world game, and it deferentially approached the throne of cinema – and the films of Akira Kurosawa in particular – on bended knee. But Superliminal is a game that could only be a game. No other medium could so effectively convey the confusion and eeriness of being trapped in a dream, a place where doorways shrink as you approach them, everyday objects take on fantastic properties, and passages emerge in the unlikeliest of places. It’s a trip, a wonderful, transgressive trip, and the last level in particular goes all out to blow your mind with machine-gun blasts of brain-busting dream logic.

The puzzles themselves generally aren’t too hard to solve, but often they’ll require you to shift your thinking and look at the problem from a different angle (sometimes literally). I raced through the whole game in a couple of days, and my only real complaint is that I wish it was a bit longer. Superliminal does a brilliant job of building your expectations and layering on system after system, only to mess with your head by throwing in something that doesn’t work as you expected. I’d love to see a few more levels that really go to town with this and throw the rulebook out of the window. But what we already have is an essential game – and one which I dearly wish could be played in VR. Now that would be a trip.

Superliminal was developed by Pillow Castle, and it’s available on PC, Switch, Xbox One and PS4. We played the PS4 version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Superliminal was provided by Evolve PR. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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