Also on: PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Developer: State of Play
South of the Circle is the second game I’ve played in the last few months where you could feel the intense desire for critical accolades practically emanating from the screen. Much like The Magnificent Trufflepigs a few months ago, everything about the game felt calculated to win praise. It’s got a voice cast that features actors and actresses from TV shows and movies like Bohemian Rhapsody, Game of Thrones, and Downton Abbey. Its eShop description brags about the game’s “(m)asterfully executed cinematic feel”, how its “beautiful aesthetic and nuanced writing underlines its sweeping cinematic scope”, and says that it’s a game for “audiences that seek emotional and heart-wrenching moments with a game.”
It’s got ambition, in other words, and it thinks it has something to say.
To the game’s credit, it’s much better than The Magnificent Trufflepigs. South of the Circle’s voice cast all turn in excellent performances. Its minimalist art style – which owes a debt of gratitude to films like Waking Life – looks gorgeous. It does a good job of constantly pushing the story forward – where some walking simulators get a little too meandering for their own good, South of the Circle always feels like it’s moving you along towards the next plot point.
The problem is, not all the plot points make a whole lot of sense. The game certainly wants you to think that they do – and, what’s more, they want you to think that your choices make a difference in the outcome – but at the end of the game, you quickly realize that nearly all of it is extraneous fluff. There are all kinds of threads involving the Cold War and the South Pole and academia and Communist agitators and abusive parents and romance, but barely any of them make any difference on where the story winds up. The game wants you to think it’s all connected, and to South of the Circle’s credit the voice acting is nearly good enough to cover up gaping plot holes, but when you get to the grand reveal at the end, it’s hard not to respond with a shrug and feel like you’ve just wasted three hours.
To be sure, there are worse ways to waste three hours than in the presence of very good voice actors doing their thing over gorgeous visuals. And, like I said, the game always tries to make you feel like you’re in the presence of something great. But the reality is, no matter how much South of the Circle aspires to greatness, with a story like this, it’s never more than merely okay.
11 bit studios provided us with a South of the Circle Switch code for review purposes.