South of the Circle, an interactive story from the small indie studio State of Play, which was released on Apple Arcade two years ago, has finally reached other gaming platforms. It’s a sensual, very moving and really well-made story, but… we have a few important questions about it.
|South of the Circle
|iOS, tvOS, Mac OS, Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S span>
|State of Play
|11 bit studios
|State of Play, Steam
South of the Circle could have been a good movie, or a book, or even a graphic novel for adults, but State of Play works in a game format, so it became a game, an interactive story about an explorer who got lost beyond the Arctic Circle in a snowstorm and got lost in his own memory.
The plane of Peter, a scientist from Cambridge who studies clouds, is involved in a plane crash somewhere beyond the Antarctic Circle. A young scientist must reach the nearest polar station to call for help to his injured pilot. At the same time, Peter recalls his life in England, teaching in Cambridge and working on his dissertation. And, of course, Clara, who inspired and helped him in his research.
But memory is a very unreliable thing. Usually, people remember the same events a little differently, trying to put themselves in a good light after the fact. Peter is tired, cold, he is scared, his consciousness is confused, and Clara remains the only thing that makes him go forward. But does he remember his own past correctly, did he do something in the past that makes him regret it now?
Two stories that develop almost in parallel are connected by the principle of similarity. Some detail of the environment, or action in the present, which is the search for help in the Antarctic, evokes memories of Peter’s past. And it seems that the choices that Peter makes in his memories can somehow affect what happens in the present. It’s not true: Peter only chooses how he remembers the past, not what he did when faced with a choice between loyalty to his country, the demands of the scientific establishment, and the girl he loves.
The events of South of the Circle take place in the 1960s in Cambridge and Antarctica, and the authors quite successfully convey the atmosphere of the Cold War. The Cambridge Five, the rather significant influence of left-wing theories in student circles, anti-war marches, the not-so-friendly attitude of old school teachers towards women in scientific circles, the discussion of the Antarctic Treaty are happening in Great Britain. Spy mania (actually justified), total mistrust, an attempt to secretly violate the Treaty and use scientific research as a cover for espionage and military activities – this is already about Antarctica.
And here there are several points with which a modern Ukrainian most likely will not agree. The nuclear disarmament movement was sponsored by the Soviet Union and benefited the USSR until the Union caught up and surpassed the US in terms of warheads. The need for disarmament is an outright left-wing propaganda, the fruits of which Ukraine and all of Europe are reaping now. And trust the Russians? Seriously?
That is, there are no questions for the authors of South of the Circle regarding the personal relations of Peter and Clara, or attempts to understand the mysterious events taking place beyond the Arctic Circle, but regarding the support of the typical Soviet/Russian propaganda narratives “your government is lying to you” , “not everything is so clear”, “weapons are bad” there are questions. And a lot.
Another remark concerns animations of characters and their interactions. That is, the motion capture is done very well, but when the characters interact with the game level and with each other, they look very clumsy and funny, which slightly interferes with immersion in the game. This is especially noticeable in the episode with Peter and Clara in the mountains.
Formally, South of the Circle has two different endings, but as we said, Peter can’t affect the events of the past, only his own perception of those events, so the different endings are actually very similar. That is, the interactivity in the game is only nominal, that is why we choose not even answers, but mood and abstract concepts. South of the Circle is an almost linear game, a kind of 3.5 hour movie on a game engine. The game can be completed in one session.
But as a movie, South of the Circle is simply gorgeous. Both stories are very well directed and told almost flawlessly. Thanks for this should be given not only to the screenwriters, but also to the voice actors, who skillfully coped with the roles. This is not surprising, because such authors as Gwilym Lee (Bohemian Rhapsody), Olivia Vinall (The Woman in White), Richard Goulding (The Crown), Anton Lesser (The Game of Thrones), Adrian Rawlins (Chernobyl) and Michael Fox (Downton Abbey). Special thanks for the incredibly beautiful British English, which is a real pleasure to listen to.
And of course, music. The soundtrack by Ed Critchley is really fantastic. This is a real modern cinematic symphony, which begins with the first seconds of the game and stops at the end credits. Critchley worked on the music for another State of Play game, the paperback Lumino City, which received BAFTA in 2014, in addition, he made interesting remixes of music from Machinarium.
South of the Circle is a small, complete and very emotional story. Someone will say that the open ending is a weakness of the authors, but it leaves at least some hope for a happy ending, which, in my opinion, is very important in today’s world. Until August 10, the game costs only UAH 188 on Steam. Whether it is worth going to a three-hour movie or not – decide for yourself.
P.S. The British polar station that Peter comes to at the very beginning of the game is Faraday Station (Station F), now known as the Ukrainian Antarctic station Akademik Vernadsky.