game news In the middle of a heat wave, I went to Antarctica in a narrative video game that plays with emotions
This week an independent narrative game with unusual melodies that I really wanted to discover. So I put on my best suit to present South of the Circle, a contemplative game that is simple and complex at the same time.
There are moments in life when you find yourself thinking about everything you’ve been through, everything that has made us where we are today, at this very moment. Then we tell ourselves that maybe we should have acted differently, that everything would have changed, that life would have been better… Every human being who lives on this Earth has had fun one day rebuilding his life, in his head, Hoping for a better conclusion . It is in this familiar terrain that South of the Circle proposed to take us, a narrative game signed State of Play and co-published by 11 bit studios. Immediately, my brain clicked. Seeing the studio behind the charming and award-winning Lumino City join forces with those who created the overwhelming This War of Mine could only pique my curiosity. So when the title originally released on Apple Arcade finally became available on other platforms, I had every reason in the world to give it a try. Add to those already mentioned an original and well done art direction and here I am ready to go on vacation between Antarctica and Cambridge in the days of the Cold War. But it was mostly for a journey into the heart of human emotions and Peter’s chaotic life that I embarked for an hour. A journey of which here is the story.
This is an independent review on JV:
There’s Wanted, your new column on quirky and fun indie games, and there’s this column. It is dedicated to the narrative games that we want you to discover, in a slightly more personal register, as a post and with some video excerpts.
The simple pleasures of life.
In the middle of a scorching summer, seeing a snowstorm pass before my eyes is strangely good. I would have almost forgotten how dangerous this weather event can be. Fortunately, the game is there to put my ideas in place. Little by little I see a plane take shape that has sunk despite itself in the snow of Antarctica. On board, I find Peter and his pilot, Lloyd. Immediately, panic and worry take over. This is how one of the five sets of emotions that will accompany me throughout my hour of play appears. The selection system of South of the Circle is certainly very particular. Forget precise phrases, it’s emotions and other feelings that interest us in this narrative game. In fact, each Peter’s response will depend on the set of emotions you choose (enthusiastic, pessimistic/worried…). If the latter are indicated at the beginning, throughout the story they will only be represented by symbols that, therefore, you must take into account to choose, and choose quickly. Confused at first, I finally get the logic and when my brain plays tricks on me, I can always go to the menu to refresh my memory. Some may say that this mode of operation can be confusing, but personally I think it pushes the player to fully focus on the story unfolding before their eyes, inviting them to make it their own.
So my role is to direct Peter’s emotions. And between the pressure he’s under over his thesis, his encounter with the beautiful Anna, or even the social and political upheavals of his time, the boy has something to be emotional about. But if he remembers all those moments while he was stranded in Antarctica, seeking help on his behalf, it’s because it was his past choices that led him to get on that plane. Unsurprisingly, some bigger decisions will allow you to influence Peter’s story, although I haven’t been able to see how yet. But from what I’ve seen, South of the Circle isn’t overloaded with excessive branching. The game is made with simplicity and sobriety, either because of its election system, the first topics covered or even because of its artistic direction that had seduced me so much. But beware, simple does not mean insipid, far from it. The stylish graphics of South of the Circle give it a twist of its own that is a joy to watch. The games of color are dominated, the setting is well captured and the soundtrack, although discreet, always sounds successful to accompany each moment. Artistically, South of the Circle is a gem. As for the game, the actions are limited to a few moves and the options described above. This title is more about storytelling than gameplay, you have to know that. I personally accepted the terms of the contract and allowed myself to embark on seeing where this story will take Peter and me.
like in the movies
Let’s put the story back if you don’t mind. Therefore, Peter is with Lloyd on a plane that crashed. The pilot’s leg is stuck, impossible for him to get out. Therefore, it is Peter who will have to brave the bitter cold of Antarctica alone to seek help from the nearest base. Thus, two periods intertwine: on the one hand, this current quest for survival, and on the other, a not-so-distant past that reminds Peter of why he came to this. The idea of moving forward on various time frames scared me a bit, I must admit. Playing with time can quickly get confusing or affect the pacing of the story. But this is not the case at all in South of the Circle. The transitions are very well done, whether in terms of colors, lighting effects, or the story itself. I let myself be transported from Antarctica to Cambridge, from an abandoned base to a crowded train, from a car driving through the snow to a university office, without blinking an eye. At times, I even felt like I was being pushed into a movie theater seat watching a movie by a particularly skilled director.
South of the Circle is actually a movie, and that’s what makes its story so compelling. Despite graphics far from the realism sought by some, the characters, their conversation and their stories are believable and we can identify with them very quickly. No secret, dubbing has a lot to do with it. State of Play has hired actors like Anton Lesser (Qyburn in game of Thrones), Gwylim Lee (Brian May in Bohemian Rhapsody) or Richard Goulding (Edward Adeane in The crown). It is true that these are not big names in the cinema, but all the same more than qualified actors who always know how to find the right tone in this or that line. Aurally speaking, I almost thought I was back at the University in the middle of a discussion with a professor after a colloquium. I felt the pressure on the path of my thesis tutor, the interest that young Anna aroused, the anguish in Peter’s after the accident… If the few translation errors at the level of the subtitles sometimes make you shudder, no complaints about the dubbing which allowed me to fully immerse myself in the story. A story that is presented without pretensions, without fantastic or especially overwhelming events. Simply the story of a man who has to lead his life despite pressure and disappointments… Work, love, demonstrate… Make decisions and find your place in society, with others or at their expense. Themes that won’t fascinate all players, but they managed to catch me and ignite in me the desire to continue.
Lovers of atypical narrative experiences and simple stories, South of the Circle has something to bring you a pleasant parenthesis in your life. The game has just been released for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, and Xbox One.
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