Title: South of the Circle
Developer: State of Play
Release Date: August 3, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Genre: Interactive Fiction
When faced with decisions, it’s common knowledge that one’s actions come with consequences, even if they may be unintended. In South of the Circle, we follow the story of Peter, a lecturer at Cambridge who is recruited to study climate science in Antarctica. During the trip, he and his colleague suffer a plane crash while traversing through a fierce blizzard. Helpless and lost, Peter must find help for his injured colleague and a way to escape the storm.
Though your journey begins here, you’re far from being limited to the snowy tundra. South of the Circle is a narrative adventure with a massive emphasis on storytelling. If you’re one to expect a lot of gameplay, I’d fray from those expectations. The title plays like an interactive movie, where you mainly partake in moving around and facilitating conversations. This may seem restricting, but it is the perfect medium for this kind of narrative.
As stated, you’re not going to be playing through the blizzard for the entire experience. As you make progress, you go through a constant shift between the past and the present. It is through the past that we start to piece together what led Peter to be in his present predicament. The creativity shines through these transitions as the blend between the scenery and the different narratives is done excellently. We get to immerse ourselves into Peter’s mind as he reminisces on his past–distancing himself from the current situation.
Immersion is the most compelling and well-crafted component of this story. While you are reading text and listening to dialogue for the majority of the time, you get to make decisions for your reactions and responses in conversations. These choices are based on the emotional overtones you want to display, whether it be shyness, boldness, joy, etc. This comprises your main gameplay for South of the Circle. This might seem lackluster on-paper as you’re not affecting the outcomes with much significance.
However, what these decisions allow for is your total attention to tonality, atmosphere, and relationship-building. You become cognizant of how you want Peter to react to people and their words. By doing so, you’re starting to empathize with many of his thoughts and feelings. I was pleased to see that this simple mechanic led me to become more invested in his story. I wanted to help Peter lead a good and successful life. This emotional interest becomes impactful when you start to see the contrast between his past and present.
Not only are plot mechanics superb, but so are the other plot elements, such as a strong premise and captivating writing. While the story focuses on Peter and the road to disaster, the narrative takes place during one of the peaks of the Cold War. The political themes are heavily emphasized, ranging from sexism to nationalistic pride. Peter and his life become completely entangled in these issues, leading him to become exposed to the dark truths and secrets that lay behind the powers at hand. These realizations ultimately lead him to his current state of despair.
Despite the short length of 3-4 hours, you learn a lot about his development and descent. Each sequence took its time to set the scene and tone. At times, not being able to explore a certain detail further might seem annoying, but it becomes quelled with proper storytelling. There are a couple of scenes that may not be as gripping as others, but most acts took a swing and hit.
Though there are many strengths to the plot, there are slight weaknesses that prevailed throughout. As mentioned, depth is lacking for some scenes, meaning you’ll have to take things at face value for certain scenarios and do your best to comprehend what it means. Prompting some contemplation isn’t inherently detrimental, but if you combine that with slow pacing, your mind can become numb and disengaged. Why think about one thing when they wanted to focus on another for a much longer time? Nevertheless, the short runtime made this qualm of mine fade away easily.
For Peter, there were many conflicts present, ranging from pivotal moments to minor choices. This diverse array of options aided me in feeling more of the internal struggles that weighed on his mind. From his relationship to his newfound love for his research paper, Peter’s decisions ultimately affected many people. With these constant internalizations, there are moments where you can tell the mind is being affected, as a few scenes warp and shift from the psychological impact.
Outside of curiosity about the narrative, what kept me engrossed was the phenomenal voice acting. Each character is voiced adeptly and realistically, spurring various emotions out of me. If one of Peter’s colleagues was being pretentious, I wanted to act against him. What helps is that none of the characters felt unnecessary. They all have a proper role to play, and it felt natural. The various relationships that Peter had gone through all led him to his dire situation in the Antarctic tundra.
Compared to the details strewn throughout the story, the aesthetics present a more minimalistic look. This is not to the detriment of South of the Circle, as the print-style graphics provide a cinematic experience, especially when it presents any of the angled cinematography. As mentioned before, the shifts between Peter’s past and present are done exceptionally well, with each scene adding more to the puzzle of the narrative. The contrasts between a beautiful, romantic sunset versus a devastating and dark blizzard emphasize the duality of Peter’s life.
There was a lot of meticulousness shown in the creation of a story-based game like South of the Circle. Though it’s not perfect, and the gameplay may not be to your liking, the level of interactivity and immersion that emanates from Peter’s life is impressive. Just like a cinematic film, it left me thinking about the experience. the characters, and what I had just witnessed. I felt like I had left a movie theater with a satisfied grin on my face.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.