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South Of The Circle

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Developer: State of Play
Release Date: Aug. 3, 2022


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PC Review - 'South of the Circle'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 1, 2022 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

South Of The Circle is a gripping, narrative adventure that puts the player in the middle of a compelling love story set in the midst of the 1960s Cold War.

It's a frequent criticism that narrative-focused video games are on rails. The illusion of choice is given, but there are only a handful of decisions that actually matter.

South of the Circle doesn't give two flying figs about that.

It's as much a movie as it is a game, using the interactivity only briefly and focusing on strong art direction and storytelling to ... well, tell a story. If you get frustrated by linear storytelling in games you might want to stay far away, but if you enjoy letting a story wash over you then South of the Circle might be just what you're looking for.

South of the Circle puts you in the shoes of Peter, a Cambridge academic on an expedition to the Antarctic. Unfortunately for him, the game opens with his plane crashing, leaving him stranded in the most desolate and dangerous place in the world. As he searches for civilization, his mind wanders back to the events that led him here: his childhood, his career, and most importantly, his romance with a fellow academic named Clara. While the danger might be the backdrop for the game, Peter's history is the real tale.

South of the Circle is an interesting story. It's a romance set against the backdrop of the 1960s Cold War, and it uses the setting and concepts quite well. Peter is an interesting and believable character, as is his romance with Clara. It's a slow and laid-back story, more like a casual book than a video game, but that is genuinely what it's going for, and it does it well. It's difficult to discuss plot beats without ruining the game because it's a fairly guided experience, and the story is almost everything.

Perhaps the part of the game that will "make or break it" for most players is the ending. It's very difficult to discuss without spoiling what the game is doing, but there is a last-minute twist that either sticks with you or retroactively sours your experience with the game, and it's hard to say which without playing it. I doubt most players will be interested in replaying the game, so it's best to consider this a one-and-done experience, rather than some other narrative games, which you might replay to see other outcomes.

As far as actual gameplay goes, South of the Circle is thin on the ground. The majority of the game is a linear, guided on-rail experience where you have little to no control over what is going on. Even in the areas where you can technically walk around, they are so restrained as to be pointless. This is common for narrative-focused games, but it is one of the more restrictive ones that I've had a chance to play.

The only real interaction you have is in picking an "emotion" for certain scenes. Rather than picking a direct response, you pick the emotion that Peter is feeling at the moment. This can adjust the flow of conversation, but it doesn't have a significant impact on the story or outcome. This isn't like The Quarry or The Walking Dead sort of game. You're here to watch a story with occasional button prompts, not to craft your own tale.

The visual style is very distinctive. Told with somewhat blocky character models in light pastel colors and with a heavy emphasis on light and shadow, South of the Circle is instantly striking. Each area is wonderfully rendered in a way that evokes watercolor paintings. It fits the game's tone perfectly and does a fantastic job of selling the story and atmosphere. The voice acting is similarly excellent and brings the characters to life. The entire presentation knocks it out of the park and makes it something that's worth experiencing instead of just reading about it.

South of the Circle is the equivalent of a good book. It's fun to sit down, experience, relax, and have the story drift over you. It isn't particularly interactive, and the ending feels a little unsatisfying, but beyond that, it's well told and well executed. You shouldn't pick it up if you're looking to decide who lives or who dies. You get to experience the story as it is told, with a few button prompts for flavor. If that sounds good to you, then you'll enjoy South of the Circle.

Score: 8.0/10

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