REVIEW – It’s no coincidence that the game is called as such because State of Play Game’s creation, available so far only on Apple Arcade, is primarily set in Antarctica, at the South Pole.
The cold war and its environment are infused with several emotions, and while the experience isn’t flawless, if you get hooked at the beginning, I think you’ll stay hooked until the end.
Peter would be the protagonist in a game that often alternates between the present and the past. A Cambridge University lecturer in climatology, he appears in the past as a younger man and in the present as a member of the Antarctic exploration team. I almost called South of the Circle a game (I’ll abbreviate it SotC from here on out). Still, I’m not sure that’s a fair term, as it’s primarily better defined as a linear, interactive experience, published by 11 Bit Studios, with few options but many more different options in terms of dialogue. Different symbols appear in the discussions. All of them represent a certain mood or feeling. For example, a square represents a restrained, logical response, while a green circle represents an emotional, positive response. Peter’s story is presented fairly, with a reasonable pace, and the two eras are nicely intertwined. If we see Peter driving a car in Cambridge, it will change in moments to a snowmobile at the South Pole, and in the meantime, we will learn more about his past, his childhood, and the other important character who will be there at the top of the second page. I have to stop here for a moment: I wouldn’t call it a walking simulator like, say, Gone Home, because here, the opening is more substantial (crashing plane, leaving the pilot, Floyd, behind, we make our way to the British but abandoned research station), and the atmosphere is decent.
I think SotC itself seems sophisticated primarily. I can say especially about its art style that it’s not exactly an amateur job. I can’t say much good about the dubbing (Peter = Gwilym Lee, Olivia Vinall = Clara, the other main character, but the voice of the professor, Anton Lesser, is not bad either, he was Qyburn in Game of Thrones), not to mention the music scored by Ed Critchley. So I can’t say anything bad about the audiovisuals; I think there have rarely been examples of that this year. We were in 1963, and I think the portrayal of that is quite good (because the spying in Cambridge also gives the paranoid feeling that you can’t trust anyone and you’re not alone, which is partly true and partly not when you’re at the South Pole). During our journey, we will need to check maps or tune in to the radio at some points to get in touch with Floyd. No need to think of complicated stuff, but the radio did; it was purely ANALOGUE. No digital fancy-schmancy technology in the 1960s!
She is the other main character in the story. Peter and Clara’s relationship will unfold throughout the game, and yes, so there will be lighter mood scenes throughout the story. There is also Peter’s professor and the partner during the exploration, but only the former has a significant role, but I can’t say that any of them are unevolved. The opposite is true. Oh, the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959 and enacted in 1961, will also come up in the story (and I think it’s nice how the developers have traced the past with reference images and concept art). Although the cel-shaded visuals aren’t 100% realistic, they will serve the purpose. Still, you can raise an eyebrow when some minor graphical errors occur, as there is an example of a character’s limb sticking into a table.
I know it’s a minimal thing, but it can be noticeable. However, one could also question how much of an impact the player has on the whole thing, as you can get the vast majority of achievements or trophies (not all of them) in a single playthrough, and the biggest problem I think is the length of the game. It takes about 3-4 hours to get through the story of SotC. But maybe it’s worth playing twice because once you’ve entirely fumbled your way through with end-of-the-world answers, it’s worth doing the opposite in the second round. You might find a different ambience by the end of the plot.
X = (100:10) – 5/2
South of the Circle gets a seven and a half out of ten because it’s not a particularly long game, but apart from that, it’s mostly a very high-quality piece of work. It has a pretty intense level of voice acting and music, the graphics are mostly good, and the atmosphere and story pair deserve a thumbs up. If it weren’t for the graphical bugs, I swear I would have thrown an eight out of ten on the game, which you can find everywhere except for the iOS/Android pair. So this is a recommended buy, regardless of the price.
+ Mostly outstanding dubbing and music
+ Elaborate, and graphically it does not suffer either
+ Capable of taking you with you
– It got a little short
– Sometimes you can run into visual bugs
– I wonder how much influence we have on the events…?
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios
Developer: State of Play Games
Style: adventure at the South Pole
Release: August 3, 2022.