We have reached the end credits of South of the Circle after approx three full hours of gameplay completed in one go.
South of the Circle
Platform: PC, PS4, PS5, SWITCH, XONE, XSX Genre: Adventure Release Date: August 3, 2022 Developer: State of Play Distributor:
Please don’t dwell on the brevity of this narrative adventure developed by State of Play and don’t fall into unnecessary controversy – trust me, there have already been enough on this topic recently – but focus on the fact that we could not take our hands off the pad for the duration of the storya sincere certificate of esteem for what it turned out to be one of the best expressions of the genre tried in the last period.
After spending a couple of years as an Apple exclusive, South of the Circle finally lands on other platforms and thus expands the audience of players who, we are sure, will be captured by its history.
Salvation is scattered among the snows
The start of South of the Circle is certainly not the best. In fact, we take on the role of Peter, a young Cambridge professor specialized in the study of meteorology who, after an unfortunate landing, finds himself lost in the icy lands of Antarctica together with his pilot, who was injured and stuck on board the aircraft.
The situation appears desperate right from the start and emerges from these first steps the ability of the work to build well-rounded and well-characterized characters.
Antarctica is not a hospitable place
The protagonist is fearful and frightened by the need to separate from his colleague, who must forcefully push him to abandon the sheets of the plane in search of help, fuel and medicine, a way of salvation that is lost in that white expanse all the same.
Peter’s expedition is also immediately exploited as a time travel back in the past of the protagonist, of which we will gradually learn about the obstacles encountered in the drafting of his scientific publications, we will get to know a ruthless academic environment governed by old men conservative solons ready to put a spoke in the wheels of the new generation and we will reach the difficult and traumatic childhood of the young researcher.
Clara and Peter are the two poles around which the story revolves
One of the central themes of these flashbacks is the relationship that binds Peter to Clara, also a researcher in difficulty who decides to help the protagonist in the writing of his paper and to follow him in his studies up to the Scottish countryside.
It’s hard to talk about South of the Circle without falling into easy spoilers. The entire work of State of Play is in fact based entirely on the narrative sectorof which we especially appreciated the intertwining between the most intimate part, made up of personal relationships, childhood traumas and growth paths, and the most historical in an absolute sense.
A novel in its own historical way
The story is indeed set during the alternative 60sbut which differ little from reality. In this timeline, the Cold War has taken an even more belligerent turn and nuclear disarmament is only a distant hope, a mirage that fades as the USSR, the United States and the United Kingdom wrangle over dead-end diplomatic treaties.
This historical framework frames many of the temporal leaps perfectly, it presents us with an always tense atmosphere made of suspicions and informers, which are contrasted by the hopes of young people, ready to demonstrate for peace and for a better future.
Between nuclear threat and pacifist demonstrations
Peter himself lives in a constant precarious balance, divided between his duties as a professor, his bond with Clara and her internal uncertainties, even from a difficult childhood.
These memories become more and more confused and add further tension to a present on the brink. All the scientific bases marked on Peter’s maps are in fact empty and a sinister air hovers between the radios, the beds and the instruments that does not foresee anything good.
Without burning the closing jokes, know that South of the Circle kept us on our toes until it endedthanks to a growing tension and an ability not to add unnecessary pieces that tasted of filler, an element which benefited above all from the rhythm, never weighed down by downtime.
In short, everything is in the right place, except for the final moments that did not perfectly clarify all the questions that arose in our heads during the adventure.
The quality of South of the Circle does not end in the story itself, but also includes how it is told. The stylization of the characters is contrasted with a fluid and realistic animation – not surprisingly, motion capture was used – capable of giving expressiveness to the faces, the artistic effects always add a dreamlike touch to the scene, which all of a sudden brings us back to the icy reality of Antarctica when our face is whipped by the snow.
Also the acting is of the highest order and all the lines become credible thanks to the skill of the actors, who perfectly represent the various moods of the characters.
The icing on the cake is finally the direction, with cuts and shots that accompany the various moments of the past and the present without smudging, united in a single flow thanks to perfectly calibrated transitions.
The academic environment is made up of suspicions and expectations that have never been met
Unfortunately South of the Circle is also a delicate toywhich broke several times at precisely the most dramatic moments due to obvious technical stumbles.
For example, we witnessed a quarrel between our virtual parents floating in midair, lying one meter high from our bed as we heard screams coming from beyond the door. Difficult to take issues like education and domestic violence seriously while being off the ground.
In addition to these more evident moments, there were frequent interpenetrations or some very wrong animations that had little to do with the exchange of words. Overall, they are not errors that prevent you from enjoying the story, but it would have been incorrect to overlook these uncertainties.
We choose the future
We have deliberately overlooked the playful component for a specific reason: there is practically none.
South of the Circle is in fact an almost completely passive experience and often we limit ourselves to moving the protagonist from point A to point B, waiting for the next dialogue or to interact with an object present in the scene.
If you are looking for a level of challenge, puzzles to solve or a certain amount of action, you are simply in the wrong place, because the work of State of Play simply asks to be lived with the minimum of interactions.
The gameplay ends in a few multiple choices
This does not mean that you live the story without any kind of interaction. In fact, during the dialogues the classic multiple choices appear, not however in verbal form, but as attitudes and expressions represented by some icons which, to be honest, it is never too clear what they correspond to.
There are also a handful of easily recognizable key decisions that not only dictate the tone of the words, but that influence the course of history. Unfortunately, even in this case the roads we took remained shrouded in mystery until the end and we are not sure we understood the weight of the various options during the finale.
In conclusion, South of the Circle is a title dedicated to those who want to experience an intriguing, mysterious story with an excellent cast and he is also willing to turn a blind eye to some technical uncertainties and to some mechanics that are barely sketched and not too successful.
Version reviewed: PC