Through years of gaming, my puzzle solving skills have become second to none. I have been trained to look past the obvious solution presented and think about the next few moves in sequence. I piece apart exactly what the game wants me to do, and then carefully execute my plan in order to progress in the game. Or, I just click everywhere on the screen until I select something I never saw before.
Developer: Paul Cuisset
Review platform: Xbox One
Release date: Jan 31, 2017
In Subject 13, I mixed a fair amount of both strategies while trying to navigate the world. This third-person action-puzzle game draws tons of inspiration from puzzle classics like Myst and Riven. The main character wakes up in a metallic pod and a voice continues to call him “Subject 13.” Through dialogue choices and small cutscenes–a science fiction fairytale is told about a series of experiments gone wrong. Well, at least I think that is what the game is about. The plot is rather convoluted.
I am not a really big fan of puzzle games trying to tell a dramatic story. The main reason is that some puzzles only take a few seconds to solve, while others can take around twenty minutes. When long blocks of time that involve problem solving and critical thinking are inserted between story beats, I find it easy to forget what is happening in the game.
It didn’t help that the dialogue choices were also pretty bland. This was emphasized by the lackluster voice acting. The sound design was good, but there was a strange balance with the voices that made them sound too close. There was a dissonance between the distance of the characters and the distance of their voices. Overall, the story was mostly forgettable and lacked any hooks that would make me want a sequel. However, the main draw of Subject 13 are the puzzle mechanics, which are pretty good.
I really do enjoy puzzle games. I especially love the ones that involve a twenty-step process to open a door into the next room. While I may sound sarcastic, I am being honest. Grab a brush to brush the doll's hair and remove a single strand of hair. Then use the hair as a thread to tie around two nails to create a small electric current. Then touch the lightbulb to the small current to turn on the light and attract a beekeeper…and so on. I love solving these Rube Goldberg machine-like puzzles.
The only issue is when I forgot to grab a small item on top of a cabinet. The item was essential and the game could not progress without it. Unfortunately, I could not see the item in my field of vision unless I rotated the analogue stick perfectly in the correct direction. I was not able to solve the puzzle without looking up a solution since I could not see the item in the first place.
And here in lies the real problem with Subject 13 because the character movement is atrocious. The third-person viewpoint would switch to first-person whenever a puzzle was activated, and I was happy with that choice. For the most part this made seeing everything a little easier. However, movement was the real problem. The character walked around each set piece like the floor was made of ice. He would take unnecessary steps after I let go of the stick, and he would turn in very strange arcs. Why the developers couldn't master basic movement is beyond me.
Trying to line up and push a button was seemingly impossible. Each doorway would take me at least two attempts to get into the correct position to select “pass”, which meant open. This would not have been a problem if there weren’t multiple entry ways and exits in every level of the game. This consistent problem was very frustrating.
The puzzle difficulty was also incredibly imbalanced. The first few sets of puzzles were very easy, as expected. I was able to run through them fairly quickly without any real effort. Midway through the game, the puzzles became a bit more complex and took time to analyze and evaluate before solving them. Again, this was also expected.
Then, all of a sudden, came a puzzle with three monkey statues. The key to the puzzle was to look at a bunch of different runes that correspond with notes in the notebook. I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, too bad I do not have a PhD in theoretical physics. The key was entirely too complex and came out of nowhere.
After finally breaking down and again looking up the solution, I was then greeted with the final puzzle of the game– Minesweeper. The final puzzle is a game of Minesweeper played on four sides of a cube. There is no trick to it, I just had to find all of the mines and mark them. There was no timer or suspense, just a boring version of a game that came free on my first computer in sixth grade.
The entire game was a series of missteps and letdowns. While the third-person story element was an interesting idea, the story itself and the character movement were actually hindrances instead of successes. The puzzles were mostly fun and inventive, except for the poorly placed items, the hard to reach checkpoints, and the crazy ramp in difficulty.
As a huge fan of the genre, even I would say Subject 13 is a pass. The puzzles eventually left me feeling incomplete as the difficulty spike was unwarranted and unwanted. The final puzzle is also one of the biggest letdowns I have had in a while. I really hope the developers keep trying as I believe they have something here, but I would wait for Subject 14 or Subject 15 first.
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