“Son of a bitch…” I mutter too loudly under my breath for the 20th time. A smile creeps over my face and I shake my head, grinning. Every time I think I’ve got Superliminal pegged, every time I think I’ve figured it out, it takes another left turn and defies my expectations. Superliminal is never quite what you think it is, and in that, it’s always exactly what it’s trying to be. A puzzle game that is about the adventure more than the puzzles, about how the player comes to the solutions more than the solutions themselves, Superliminal exists somewhere between Portal, The Witness, and an MC Escher painting, and yet is wholly unbound to being defined by those limitations. It is as much within those categorical boxes as it is without.
Superliminal first released for PC back in November 2019. At the time, I remember seeing intriguing videos of the game’s signature “size is perspective” mechanic, where players resized objects based on their perspective. But being a console gamer, I didn’t bother looking into it much further. Cue the console release, where Superliminal’s mind-bending, perception-altering puzzler finally comes to the living room.
My first reaction on loading it up was that it looked and felt a bit “budget.” The visuals are exceptionally simplistic, the controls a bit floaty and imprecise. Not that one needs precision controls in a game like this, but it did make jumping on objects and reaching ledges sometimes more of a hassle than it should have been. But visuals aren’t everything in a game. Sometimes it’s about sheer execution of concept, and Superliminal thinks outside the box before diving back into the box, and then cloning the box within the box and thinking outside of both of them while firmly within a third you didn’t even realize exists.
Superliminal Review – Still Alive
It starts simply enough. You’re at a budget dream clinic. A disembodied and mildly sinister AI voice, very obviously emulating Portal’s GLaDOS, begins guiding you through a series of preliminary tests. These tests serve as the building blocks for understanding how Superliminal wants you to think, literally and figuratively altering your perspective in order to solve a number of puzzles. The earliest puzzles are about shifting the size of objects based on how you see them. A large object becomes small enough to pull through a tiny gap. A tiny wedge of cheese becomes an enormous ramp. But pretty soon, you’ll break beyond the boundaries—both figuratively and literally—and fall ever deeper into this dream state where anything is possible.
Even in these early stages, there was always a joy in figuring out the puzzle solutions. Superliminal’s goal is to make you the player feel smart and clever. It’s puzzles are never so tricky that they seem unfair. It’s about that moment where it clicks into place. Where yet another mechanical twist shifts your already shifted perceptions, keeping you on your toes throughout. It’s about every gleeful “son of a bitch” and “what the fuck” I murmured as Superliminal used the power of video games to do what seems so insanely impossible. Object resizing is kind of the throughline that connects everything, but there’s… a lot more going on here. I learned never to get too comfortable with what I thought was happening, because it was apt to change briefly anyway.
The console version of the game does have one particular “secret” area now added that actually breaks the flow of the game and led to me needing to look up a guide. While there are a few of the game’s secrete collectibles in this room, it turns out the area isn’t intended to be any sort of puzzle solution, which ground my progress at that point to a halt. It’s kind of an obnoxious red herring with no hints that it’s not part of the solution. Superliminal’s mind-bending mechanics are also prone to breaking the game. There were a few times I did things that were not intended—for example, you can sometimes pull objects through certain “no object” doorways by setting them down and then picking them up “through” the door—and had to entirely reset the checkpoint to return everything to normal. Fortunately the checkpoint system is generous, so this kind of experimentation is usually more fun than frustrating.
Superliminal Review – Break Reality
I was consistently impressed with Superliminal’s performance, given some of the insane things it lets the player do. One puzzle plays with size, where you can change the size of two linked doorways, which changes your size when you got through them. At one point I made myself so small I just kind of floated away. It seemed like this dream couldn’t reconcile with my nearly visiting the microverse. Yet I also don’t consider this moment a glitch at all. I appreciate that Superliminal let me go to those extremes. Setting limits in a game that is supposed to be about breaking limits and boundaries would have felt antithetical. In this way, Superliminal is a bit of a playground and I’d love to see its concepts expanded on even more.
A first playthrough will probably take most players around three hours or so, depending on how much experimenting with the games shifting sense of physics and perception you do, as well as any exploration off the beaten path. A speedrun of the game can be done in under 30 minutes (in fact, there’s a Trophy to be earned for doing so), but there’s plenty of replay value in the assorted collectibles that are scattered across this dreamscape, from pulling all the fire alarms and emptying all the fire extinguishers to finding the very, very hidden chess pieces. It’s short enough to not overstay it’s welcome (and, in fact, could have explored some of it’s mechanics a little more in depth), but it’s got plenty there for people who want to spend more time dreaming. Even being certain I had scoured every corner of this game, I missed far more collectibles and secrets than I want to admit.
Superliminal’s final message is one of growth and discovery within the self. It’s about feeling proud of your ability to think outside the box and uncover the unconventional solutions to its bizarre puzzles. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but its bold and unorthodox approach to the puzzler genre helps it stand out. In an era of increasingly longer and bigger games, Superliminal’s brevity is a nice palate cleanser, even if I hope a hypothetical follow-up does more to explore its out-of-the-box and perception defying nature. If Superliminal caught your eye, let curiosity get the better of you. While it may not quite be cohesive enough to break into the pantheon of top-tier puzzle-games, it’s a conceptually fascinating adventure through the shifting reality of the mind that never allows your expectations to settle.
Superliminal review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.