Subsurface Circular is a game about chatting with robots on a train. A short but thoroughly engaging text adventure, it weaves together elements of sci-fi and a detective story to create an intriguing narrative within a compelling world. Its presentation is minimalist yet it effectively captures a captivating mood and tone, whilst the excellent writing forms a memorable cast of characters and creates a clear vision of the world above.
Subsurface Circular is available on Steam for $4.79.
You are a Tek. Teks are robots with advanced AI and sentience. Each Tek has their own assigned job, and an intelligence level that is designated during production.
Teks work across all sectors of this future sci-fi world, often doing jobs once performed by humans. Librarian Teks, for example, store knowledge and information, whilst there are sponsorship Teks that obnoxiously spout endless streams of marketing material.
There’s a huge amount of charm between the variety of Teks you’ll encounter, and they each have their own personalities.
Your designation is as a detective. Your assignments typically come from the human higher-ups, referred to as “management”, until you get involved in a mysterious case of disappearing Teks, leading to you undergoing an informal off-the-books investigation.
This investigation consists of talking to the cycling Tek passengers of the Subsurface Circular–the city’s subway system–and trying to piece together facts, rumours, and speculation in order to uncover why Teks have been disappearing, and who could be behind it.
Tek Politics and Tek Society
As you ride the train round the subway system talking to Teks as they come and go, sparking up conversations with strangers as you might on an actual train and seeing where they lead, you learn a lot about the future society they inhabit.
Teks and humans coexist in a future civilisation that, although you never see first-hand, you still get a pretty good impression of thanks to the excellent writing. Teks are very much treated as second-class citizens in this world, and humans, it would seem, aren’t too fond of them.
There are some interesting social analogies between modern society and the human-robot future depicted in Subsurface Circular.
There is also the concept that Teks can be re-programmed if they under-perform, or if they simply get fired. Since humans rule this world, they choose the fate of Teks.
The game explores themes of purpose and individuality that are compelling and well-written so I don To explore some of these themes within this review would be spoiling much of what the game has to offer. I can say, however, that it has some interesting ideas and some neat takes on our potential future sci-fi society.
All Aboard The Subsurface Circular
The interesting part of Subsurface Circular is that, although you’re investigating a case that alludes to potentially thousands of citizens–both human and Tek–and you’re interacting with Teks from all walks of life, you spend the entire game aboard the same train in the same seat.
The revolving-door cast of Teks come and go as you progress, your current train-riding companions get off as another set of Teks board, but you never move yourself.
Subsurface Circular is a text adventure at its core, so you could look at it as just a simple budget-cutting technique, but in the midst of the game’s busy rush hour-feeling flow it brings the world to life and creates a feeling that the city above the noisy and hectic subway system is thriving and populous.
It helps to add a valuable weight to your investigation, and the persistent feeling that your choices is really affecting the vast population above.
Interactive Developer Commentary
The game also features a unique style of developer commentary that becomes available once you’ve finished the game. If you choose to play the game again, you’ll be be able to activate “interactive” developer commentary. This basically means there will be a Tek hanging out on the train throughout the game. You can talk to it at any point and ask it a variety of questions about the production of the game.
They basically read as frequently-asked-questions regarding the game, its development, and the various design decisions that went into it. There are a ton of questions you can ask the bot, such as the inspiration for the art design, why they chose not to produce VO for the Teks, why they chose to provide 3D art for a text adventure, and more. It’s a neat and fun concept, and it implements developer commentary and behind-the-scenes info in a novel and interesting way.
Graphics, Sound, and Presentation
Subsurface Circular is a tight and polished experience. The choice to add a flashy layer of presentation serves the game well. The varied designs of Teks help to further their individual personality and charm, whilst the clean look of the subway system creates a cool futuristic-looking subway system. It’s a fun take on the text adventure format that expands a game already full of charm into a game with a unique and engaging aesthetic.
There’s also excellent use of audio. The game features a great soundtrack from Dan le Sac, and the sounds of the subway are full of life and bustling with activity. Subsurface Circular benefits greatly from its choice to be more than just a text adventure. It is immediately more than the sum of its parts, and is a wonderful experience because of it.
An intriguing narrative and excellent writing propels you through the uncertain world of Subsurface Circular. A cool concept built around a unique world and some excellent and compelling presentation. Subsurface Circular is a fantastic example of how to make a modern text adventure; it’s compelling, aesthetically engaging, and wonderfully written. A brief experience but one well worth the small price of admission. Bithell Games have proved they can make great games on an extremely small scale.