South of the Circle, which was developed by State of Play and is being published across all platforms by 11 bit studios, is a short narrative-driven adventure game that managed to hit plenty of the right notes. We checked it out on a PlayStation 4.
After completing South of the Circle, we debated where it sits, in terms of game genres. It’s lacking the usual puzzle and inventory-driven mechanics of traditional adventure games, and it certainly doesn’t have the action sequences you’d associate with an action adventure either. Its largely narrative and dialogue-driven story feels reminiscent of visual novels in how your main way of influencing the story is to choose between responses at key points, yet it’s not nearly as centered on reading as those games are.
In the end, the game sits somewhere in the middle, and has an audiovisual delivery that sets it apart and makes sure the story has emotional oomph to it. You play as Peter, a British academic who crash-lands in the Antarctic with a small place, not far from a base camp. He has to make it there if he is to survive, but the journey is arduous and gives him plenty of time to contemplate a few things.
There’s his immediate struggle for survival, of course, but professionally he’s also working on a major breakthrough in the field of cloud tracking during his tenure at Cambridge. At the same time, he’s found happiness on a personal level with fellow lecturer Clara, and all these events allow the game to just back and forth in time as we explore the different facets of Peter’s life.
And while the game doesn’t excel in terms of interactivity and traditional gameplay mechanics, the story is brought to life through some great voice acting performances from a cast whose members have worked on titles such as Bohemian Rhapsody, The Crown, Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. Combine that with a very artful visual style, and you have a tale that mesmerized for the duration of its two to three hour runtime.
When South of the Circle’s story starts to feel like it drags a little bit, halfway through, it throws a few unexpected twists at you, which you’ll want to see through until the end as quickly as possible. This may not be the kind of thrilling gameplay experience that you usually pick up your controller for, but as a piece of interactive drama it’s right up there with some of our favorites in the genre.