(iOS/PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xbox) I previously castigated games that want to be films and, by the standards I set in that write-up, SOUTH OF THE CIRCLE hits every note. Sure, you can navigate your character around, explore a bit from here and there, choose an emotional response to someone’s remark, but it’s first-and-foremost a linear experience to tell a single story, to imbue a specific sort of emotional hurt.
However, I did note that — if done correctly — those grievances could be forgiven, and SOUTH OF THE CIRCLE is one of those works.
SOUTH OF THE CIRCLE opens with a pilot (Floyd) and a British climatologist (Peter) in the cockpit of a plane that’s crashed in the middle of nowhere Antartica. Floyd is immobile, as one of his legs were crushed in the crash. Peter sets out to find help at one of the few neighboring research stations, following a pulsing beacon that pierces through the snow. As he goes from station to station, he intermittently recalls the events that brought him here: his initial struggles with his research, in finding a like-minded fellow scientist who helps inspire him with his work that is meant to help Britain which is in the midst of the Cold War, in falling in love with said fellow scientist, then faced with the dilemma that the school overseeing his research doesn’t want to give the fellow scientists co-credit for the research because she’s a woman.
Notably, said partner is not onboard the crashed plane.
While SOUTH OF THE CIRCLE dabbles with thriller and espionage elements — Peter’s higher-ups are constantly fretting about the Soviet menace — it’s first and foremost about two people bonding over their scientific curiosity, how they inspire each other, how they trust each other, and how institutions can cause someone to betray a loved one.
It’s an extremely potent and effective tale, bolstered by the sparse but simplistically dazzling presentation. While the game consists of flat colors and simple shapes, it all comes together in a brilliantly evocative way. It’s a series of gorgeously austere set pieces that alone make it worth playing.
As previously noted, the game does feature some emotion-based interactivity. Occasionally, when Peter has to contribute to a conversation, you get an ‘emotion prompt’ that allegedly can affect how the game progresses. (I’ll note that they do often mirror the beacon that is clearly visible in the opening of the game.)
As I’ve only played it once, I can’t attest to the efficacy of that, but I do have a hard time imagining that the game significantly plays out much differently in the end, regardless of your emotional choices and that’s fine by me! It is telling the story it wants to tell. As with most stories, it’s not about the conclusion, but the journey.