game news In the middle of a heat wave, I went to Antarctica in a narrative video game that plays with emotions
This week released a standalone narrative game with atypical rhythms that I was looking forward to discovering. So I donned my warmest suits to introduce South of the Circle, a meditative game that is both simple and complex at the same time.
There are times in life when you find yourself thinking about everything you’ve been through, everything that made us who we are today, at this very moment. Then we tell ourselves that perhaps we should have acted differently, that everything would have changed, that life would have been better… Every human being on this earth has enjoyed one day rebuilding his life, in his head, hoping for a better conclusion. On this familiar basis who proposed to take us south of the circlea narrative game by State of Play and co-published by 11-bit Studios. Immediately, my mind clicked. Seeing the studio behind the charming, award-winning Lumino City unite with those who created the overwhelming This War of Mine, couldn’t help but pique my curiosity. So when the title was originally released on Apple Arcade and finally became available on other platforms, I had every reason in the world to give it a try. Add to those already mentioned an original and well-rounded artistic direction, and here I am ready to go on vacation between Antarctica and Cambridge at the time of the Cold War. But above all, it was a journey into the heart of human emotion and the chaotic life of Peter that I embarked on for an hour. Journey here is the story.
This is an independent review on JV:
There’s Wanted, your new column about quirky and fun indie games, and there’s this column. It’s for narrative games that we want you to discover, in a slightly more personal record, like a post and a few excerpts from a video.
Simple pleasures of life
In the scorching middle of summer, seeing a snowstorm pass before my eyes is strangely good. I would have almost forgotten the danger this weather event could pose. Fortunately, the game is here to put my thoughts in the right place. Little by little I see a plane taking shape, sank in spite of itself in the ice of Antarctica. On the plane, she finds Peter and his pilot, Lloyd. Immediately, panic and anxiety took over. And so one of the five sets of emotions that will accompany me throughout my gaming hour emerges, the South of the Circle selection system is actually very special. Forget the exact sentences, it is emotions and other feelings that matter to us in this narrative game. Each response from Peter will really depend on the set of emotions you choose (excited, pessimistic/anxious…). If the latter is indicated at the beginning, then throughout the story they are represented only by icons, so you need to keep them in mind to pick and choose quickly. Confused at first, I finally get the logic and when my brain plays tricks on me I can always go to the menu to refresh my memory. Some would say this method of play can be confusing, but I personally find that it forces the player to focus fully on the story unfolding before their eyes, inviting them to make it their own.
So my role is to channel Peter’s feelings. And between the stress of his thesis, his meeting with the beautiful Anna or even the social and political turmoil of his day, the boy has something to be sentimental about. But if he looks back on all those times when he was stranded in Antarctica, seeking help on his own, it’s because his past choices got him into that plane. Unsurprisingly, some of the more important choices will allow you to influence Peter’s story, although I haven’t been able to figure out how to do that yet. But from what I’ve seen, south of the circle is not burdened with excessive branching. The game is made of simplicity and sobriety, whether by its system of choices, by the first topics covered or even by its artistic direction which tempted me so much. But beware, simplicity does not imply taste, it is far from that. The elegant graphics of Southern Circle add its own touch that I’m glad to see. The color games are mastered, the ambiance is good and the soundtrack, although discreet, always rings true to accompany every moment. Technically south of the circle is a gem. For the game, the actions are limited to a few moves and the options are described above. This title relies more on the narrative than the game, you have to know it. Personally, I accepted the terms of the contract and allowed myself to set out to see where this story would take us, Peter and I.
Like in the movies
Let’s put the story back in place if you don’t mind. So Peter is with Lloyd in a plane crash. The pilot’s leg is stuck, it is impossible for him to get out of it. So it is Peter who will have to face the bitter cold of Antarctica alone in order to seek help from the nearest base. So two periods are intertwined: on the one hand, this current search for survival, and on the other hand, a not so distant past that reminds Peter why he came to this. The idea of progressing over multiple timeframes scared me a bit, I have to admit. Playing with time can quickly become overwhelming or affect the rhythm of the story. But this is not at all the case in the south of the circle. The transitions are done beautifully, whether in terms of colors, lighting effects, or the story itself. It allowed me to be transported from Antarctica to Cambridge, from a deserted base to a crowded train, from a car moving through the snow to a university office, without leaving an eyelid. At times, I felt as though I had been pushed into a cinema seat to see a film by a particularly skilled director.
South of the Circle is actually all about a movie, which is what makes its story so engaging. Despite the far-from-realistic graphics that some seek, the characters, their conversations, and their stories are believable and we can get to know them pretty quickly. No secret, dubbing has a lot to do with it. State of Play hired actors like Anton Lesser (Qyburn in Game of thrones), Joel Lee (Brian May dances bohemian rhapsody) or Richard Golding (Edward Aden in the crown). Admittedly, these aren’t big names in cinema, but they’re all the same More than qualified representatives who always know how to find the right tone on this line and such. By the audio talk, I thought I was back at university in the middle of a discussion with a professor after a seminar. I felt the pressure in the way of my dissertation teacher, the interest in young Anna’s concern, the pain in Peter after the breakup…complaints about the dubbing allowing me to fully immerse myself in the story. A story that presents itself without pretension, without fictional or particularly breathtaking events. Just the story of a man who has to live his life despite the pressures and disappointments… Work, love, pretend… Make decisions and find your place in society with or at their expense. Issues that will not impress all the players, but they attracted me and ignited in me the desire to continue.
Fans of atypical narrative experiences and simple stories, South of the Circle has something to bring you a nice arc in your life. The game has just been released on PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, and Xbox One.
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