Stuck in the middle of the Antarctic, Peter, the game’s protagonist is trying to find help. The gravity of the situation he’s in hits; his plane has crashed, the pilot’s injured and no one else is about. Peter’s perception of reality phases. The past cleverly cuts into the present and the story of his scientific discovery unfolds. The pressures of the Cold War become apparent; along with a love triangle–Peter, a fellow doctor Clara, and his work.
The way South of the Circle fades between the present and the past doesn’t show context like text saying “last month”. It treats the player with respect. Believing they are intelligent enough to work out where in time they are. Cuts are well executed, there are cinematic sweeps with the camera swinging upwards below a sign to pan back down and to a different location. Snow storms and jump cuts also move through time. These are very satisfying.
Realities blur between timelines. Aspects of the past appear inconspicuously in the surroundings, blending in before noticing how out of place they actually are. One example, a building appears on the horizon. A pub. There’s a pub in the middle of an Antarctic island? Ahhh no; it’s just a flashback. This back-and-forth mechanic helps really push the story along.
The voice acting is well delivered, with emotion and depth. Unsurprising though, considering the cast includes actors from TV shows like Downton Abbey, Chernobyl and The Crown. The soundtrack also helps complete the experience. Music is used to drive the tension effectively. It builds. Short. Sharp. Notes. Building. Before releasing, giving the next story twist; it does all this well considering the few gameplay aspects.
South of the Circle presents itself as having meaningful choices. There isn’t. Those coming into the game expecting to create multiple play-throughs–to explore multiple routes over and over–will be disappointed. One could be fooled into thinking they have authority by the small bubbles appearing in conversations throughout directing Peter’s response to people. Choices in conversations don’t swing the story.
It’s not even like a Telltale game where there’s a short-term change before rejoining the main story tracks. Even the choices it does save, by making a point to highlight them at the top of the screen, don’t matter. They only affect a single conversation in the closing moments. It feels like a massive bait and switch. Does this matter though? No. Because the story is more compelling through its delivery, visuals and audio.
South of the Circle delivers in the sound department, conversations are the main gameplay mechanic. Yes, there are point-and-click interactions with items, turning radio dials and finding notes to build context but that’s the extent (With the exception of one encounter near the end).
The lack of gameplay mechanics may put some off South of the Circle; however, the story it delivers is excellent to carry it through this. Consider it less as a game and more of an experience easily completed in an afternoon.
Should you play it? Yes.
Why? The story is compelling and well voice-acted.
But… it’s more of an interactive story than a
game and your choices don’t matter
Reviewed on: PC (Steam) Developer/Publisher: State of Play / 11 Bit Studios Playable on: PC (Steam), Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, Switch, Apple Arcade Released: 3 August 2022 (October 2020 on Apple Arcade) Cost: £10.29
Review code supplied via terminals.io