We have come a long way in how we imagine and even understand robotics. We have sent them to the moon and to Mars, but we have arenas dedicated to robot death-matches. We have robots that aid in surgeries, that automate factories, and even function in environments that are hostile to humans. Robotic technology keeps advancing and with conversations about AI raging on, one might ask what the future will look like. Are we in danger of evil robot overlor… I mean, benevolent protectors? What if we could catch a glimpse at a possible future? This is our Subsurface Circular review.
Set up on an underground transportation line by the same name, Subsurface Circular puts you in the role of a Tek (the name used for robots within the game) with the designation of a detective. In this world, Tek and human co-exist, but a majority of the labor is carried out by the Teks, leaving humanity a bit out of sorts. The designation of each Tek is assigned by AI known as the Management.
But like every good detective story, it all started with that one lead… that one lead which could unravel everything. Mysterious disappearances. A friend in danger. Suspicious characters on every side. It isn’t your case, but who is going to take it if you don’t? Without spoiling any of the story, this is a detective drama that will keep you guessing – and a gorgeous one at that!
Subsurface Circular is an investigation game in which you engage in conversations with other Teks in order to make sense of these disappearances and the suspicious actives that seem to be going on in the world around you. To do this, you simply click on the Tek’s nameplate and you can begin a conversation. Each Tek has their own professional designation which will be relevant to the conversation that you have with them and, potentially, those who you speak with later. Throughout these conversations, you will gain new information which will unlock dialogue options for future encounters. These options will remain available until you have resolved their usefulness.
This a text-based adventure game, so no wandering around looking for clues. All of the clues and cues you need are in the conversations themselves. This creates for some interesting problem-solving as you unravel what exactly in going on around you. One of my favorite moments within the game (again, no spoilers here) was figuring out how to interact with a Tek Athlete who was programmed for sponsorship.
While the game has some heavy themes, these are balanced with some light-hearted and self-aware moments. They aren’t enough to take you out of the game’s environment, but they do provide a bit of humanity to your surrounding. Which is the crux of Subsurface Circular and brings me to my closing thoughts about the game.
I have kept it no secret that I am a pastor. It isn’t really a profession that you leave at the office after 5 PM or hang up in a closet; it informs everything I do. While some might relegate this role solely to the realm of teaching those interested in religious pursuits, I see the role as something a little bit different: as a pastor, I am an interpreter of culture – both ancient and present. After all, when preaching and teaching, my aim is to connect the two in order to answer the “so what/why does all of this matter” questions of our day.
Over the years, there have been a handful of games and stories which have caused me to take a critical look at issues cresting the horizon that seem so far on the periphery that it would seem ridiculously fanciful to consider them as potential realities, yet they gnaw at me with their importance. In a similar vein as Mass Effect’s proposal of biological and synthetic singularity, Subsurface Circular comes along to make us consider some of humanity’s greatest questions: What is life, what is the value of life, and who determines that value?
What Subsurface Circular does so well in telling its story is that it outlines the ugliness of what can happen when we consider others as “less than” – when we classify the value of human beings based on their contribution to society or their proximity to our opinions and values. While this story distinguishes between human and Tek, the Tek culture is written as remarkably human, mimicking the above points by creating hierarchies within the Tek working classifications and intelligence. And all of this takes place in a world wrestling with how far can and should technology reach.
At the end of the day, Subsurface Circular is an exploration of our humanity… as presented by robots. It presents you with the opportunity to wrestle with what you value along with the questions of autonomy versus automation. While it is a short game, at $6 USD, it is worth the coin to exercise our gray matter. If you like a good detective mystery or like text based adventures, this is a game to check out.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go unplug my Google Home and power down my phone for a bit.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on Steam with a code provided by PR.