App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Earlier this year, Thomas Was Alone developer Mike Bithell announced and released a game on the same day. This game is now considered the first of a series of narrative experiments by Bithell that he plans to create when between projects. This first "Bithell Short" is entitled Subsurface Circular, and it’s a brief, narrative adventure that tells an amazingly focused story and feels right at home on mobile.
Subsurface Circular takes place in a sci-fi world where humans have created robots to fulfill their every need. These robots, known as Teks, are given roles like fabricator, nanny, or priest, and they go to and from their assigned jobs on a giant, underground train system known as the Subsurface Circular.
You inhabit this world as a detective Tek, who just so happens to be riding on the Subsurface Circular when you catch wind of a missing Tek and decide to investigate. This puts you on an adventure where you try to discover what is happening through interviewing Teks as they hop into and out of your train car.
Train of text
Subsurface Circular is a dialogue heavy experience, so much so that your character literally does not move over the course of the game. Instead, you initiate conversations with sets of Teks as they get on the train, and you advance the story by hearing what they have to say, asking questions about the right things, and solving some light puzzles to get the answers you need.
Although there is no voice acting, it’s hard not to be drawn into Subsurface Circular’s story. It tells a somewhat familiar tale on the anxieties of job automation and robotic sentience, but it comes from a unique perspective and finds creative ways to hit on these large societal problems using nothing but a train car and a dozen or so robotic characters.
The only potential gripe I could see someone having with Subsurface Circular is with its length. The whole experience can be finished in around two hours, and for $4.99, that might not seem like a great value.
To defend its length, I could say that Subsurface Circular does have a couple different endings, and beating the game unlocks access to developer commentary tracks, both of which are true. Instead though, I’d rather just tell you that the way Subsurface Circular accomplishes what it does in its brief playtime is exactly what makes it worth your money.
The bottom line
Subsurface Circular is a game that does so much with so little. It’s got an extremely stripped down set of mechanics, characters, and environments, yet it uses them tell a surprisingly deep and nuanced story in a pretty short amount of time. It’s hard to ask for more than that, and if you did, it might tarnishSubsurface Circularwhat is an extremely efficient and polished experience.