South of the Circle Review
South of the Circle is a DICE award-winning narrative adventure from developers State of Play and published by This War of Mine‘s 11 Bit Studios. It was released on August 3 for PCs and consoles after being exclusively available on Apple Arcade since 2020.
South of the Circle tells the heartbreaking tale of a scientist and academic, Peter Hamilton, who finds himself stranded in Antarctica in the middle of the Cold War. As he explores the barren land, he recalls his time as a lecturer in Cambridge, his tumultuous childhood, and his relationship with fellow lecturer Clara.
In this narrative experience, we follow Peter through his present-day struggle for survival inter-cut with flashbacks of his past, which bleeds through in his memory, represented by its unique art style and scored beautifully throughout this meditative tale south of the circle.
A radio drama come to life
South of the Circle is a unique experience that may mean and feel differently depending on the player. Some may think of it as an interactive movie, but in my experience, it definitely felt more like a radio drama come to life. While the appeal of this art style may vary from person to person, what stands out are the stellar performances of its actors, who really bring the story to life.
Visually, it’s a fantastic effect how the flashbacks are well woven into the story and how some of the memories bleed into the present-day adventure in Antarctica. The whole progression and pacing of the story feel organic, and the struggle for survival in the present day contrasts with Peter’s tumultuous childhood and his role as a lecturer in Cambridge.
The script and the performances blend together in fantastic fashion, where the well-written dialogue works in harmony to deliver a riveting romance between two lovers from different worlds. It is nuanced storytelling at its finest, letting the dialogue and visuals deliver the story without being heavy-handed with the way it reveals its plot points, unlike in other similar games like Maquette, which explains the romance to you rather than letting you feel it.
The Coldest of Wars
To a certain degree, South of the Circle immerses you in both worlds to the best of the director’s ability. You’re able to interact with objects and enter buildings. Doing so will provide some immersion and backstory with Peter’s past and the current Cold War conflict that remains in the background, establishing a subtle conflict with the whole ideology of the world in general and even affecting Peter’s relationship with Clara.
South of the Circle provides this unique way of responding to interactions by choosing a type of emotion that Peter is feeling: panicked, confused, empathetic, joyous, and assertive. In a way, it doesn’t necessarily affect the overall story; it just allows you to mold Peter into the character that you feel he is. He can be as assertive or as sniveling as you wish, which adds layers to Peter’s drama.
However, there are some moments where you have a singular emotional choice, which is forced upon Peter should you do nothing. This often feels redundant and could’ve been automatically portrayed, or there could’ve also been an option to remain quiet, as we’ve seen in many narrative adventures.
Also, some of the interactive portions of this game are forced, especially when driving. Your fuel meter is indicated on the screen, which adds some tension, but ultimately does nothing as the linear nature of the story will eventually get you to the end no matter what you do. It does something unique with your decisions at the end of the story, which I found creative, but could affect replayability.
Overall, it’s the length of a mini-series at around 3 hours. Replaying the game to see how the scene would play out is an option, but as mentioned earlier, the differences are subtle. However, it’s a well-traveled 3 hours with some of the best writing and nuanced storytelling seen in any medium within the last year.
What We Liked:
- Fantastic voice acting, bringing the cast to life amidst its unique art style.
- Engaging soundtrack.
- One of the best-written games in recent memory.
What We Didn’t Like:
- Strange game design choices that feel redundant.
Verdict: Buy It!
South of the Circle is one of the best-written games in the last few years, with a unique narrative alternative to film and television. This is definitely a title that fits the interactive medium perfectly, providing another layer of immersion and storytelling lacking in other popular mediums.
I highly recommend South of the Circle for its price point and ease of accessibility. It’s engaging, heartbreaking, and an easy title to finish in one sitting or interspersed throughout the weekend.
I’m always looking for titles to find unique ways of telling a story, and South of the Circle definitely succeeds in that.
*South of the Circle was reviewed on a PS5 with a review code provided by the publishers.