It must be fiendishly difficult to design a puzzle game like Viewfinder. Sometimes, it is all I can do to wrap my head around it. It takes an inconceivably mad genius to come up with this game conceptually. Some of the challenges totally consumed me. Others were dealt with simply. While solving each I was struck with a question: In the face of sharp gameplay, does a puzzle game need an additional something? Perhaps not!
I have heard Viewfinder referred to as “that camera game.” This is only partly show. Viewfinder is a visually rich first-person puzzle game that plays with your sense of perspective. It’s in the lineage of some legendary games. A lot of people see it and think of The Witness. I couldn’t stop thinking about Portal. If you are a big fan of the genre, you’ve probably played Superliminal, of which Viewfinder is probably a cousin.
Going into Viewfinder, I thought it was going to be an immersive world to explore. I was expecting something like Myst. There is definitely a narrative in Viewfinder (more on that in a bit), but puzzles are discrete, not discovered. What I mean is, this is a game with levels. Every level you start on a new island and need to figure out how to navigate to a teleporter, which will take you to the next challenge. Between these puzzles are small hubs that tell you a bit about a character or the world.
It’s a bit difficult to describe the puzzles in Viewfinder. An early example presents you with a gap, and a photograph of a bridge. Hold the photograph up and bam, you get a bridge you can cross. Then you find a photocopier. You’ll encounter standing cameras on tripods. Eventually, you can carry around your own camera. Sometimes, you’ll find things altogether stranger, like a comic book, which might help or distract you.
The puzzles in Viewfinder are the main attraction, so it is fortunate that they are a blast. A lot of them may feel familiar- there were at least a couple of challenges that were pretty much the same as some of the Riddler trophies in the Arkham games. But the specifics are always well thought out. Sometimes, they are even delightful. You’ll play with gravity, and image quality, all sorts of simulated systems. Often the order with which you complete tasks is the key to activating the next teleporter.
All of this takes place in a blindingly vibrant sci-fy/fantasy world. The genre blend is sort of key, because the realm you are exploring in Viewfinder is full of Weird Science and you are encountering audiologs of the Weird Scientists who built this place. There’s also a story stapled on top, where you and your unseen handler are trying to comb the depths of this freaky dimension to maybe solve climate change.
This story never really grabbed me. I love the presentation! Exploring different art styles is one of the best video game experiences I’ve had all year; they rule. But the characters never really grabbed me. They were coherent enough to give a motif to a collection of levels- this guy loved guitars, this person had a complex relationship with their family- but I found myself tuning out and skipping the harder to reach audiologs. I dunno. Maybe there’s a disconnect for me between art, photography, and magical climate change solutions? The game is interested in this tension. If you are a schoolteacher, this game is an argument for including the A in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). But ultimately I enjoyed Viewfinder most as an excuse for some groovy brain teasers.
There’s a cat in Viewfinder. It’s a sort of talking robot/alien/Cheshire thing. It appears from time to time to drop some exposition. You can pet the cat. I mention all of this, because they do a good job at conveying the tone of Viewfinder. This is a game that’s touching upon a lot of popular themes right now. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a collection of cozy games and hopeful environmental sci-fi is hot. But I didn’t walk out of Viewfinder with a new perspective on the future.
I did however have the best time solving its puzzles, which I’d hate to spoil here. But man, when you turn a photo upside-down and then stuff falls out of it? That moment got me to gasp. And the gravity physics were fun enough to have me playing with them until I made myself a little seasick. Viewfinder doesn’t have the tonal mastery of an exploration game like Myst, but it’s puzzles are second to none in the genre. You should definitely challenge yourself with Viewfinder, the most beguiling puzzle game of the year.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Brain bending puzzles
- Beautiful like nothing else
- Solarpunk, if that’s a thing you’re into
- Story fails to grab
- Not a lot of exploration