This was a game I had been keeping an eye on since it appeared in an Extra Credits “Games You May Not Have Tried” episode and jumped at the opportunity when it became available for the Switch.
In Subsurface Circular you play an android made for being a detective and thus created with high sentience. You are geolocked onto a single subway car and not allowed to leave. At the start you are approached by a fellow android begging you take a case for him to investigate the disappearance of his friend and the rumors of other android disappearances. You take the case and begin questioning other train passengers. As you cannot leave the train car, you must make use of conversations with the current passengers in order to try and solve the case.
Gameplay wise, this is nothing too groundbreaking–dialogue trees and conversation points/branches unlocked through conversation, and some puzzles created from these. The emphasis on being stuck in a train car and only able to have conversations with the current occupants made me excited that this could also place an emphasis on being quick/terse (to avoid losing vital passengers as they exit the train, or having to wait for certain stops to get certain types of passengers), but this was not the case… The train metaphor is simply used as a “stage” mechanic–once you reach a certain key dialogue point, the stage ends, the trains reaches the next stop, and the characters swap.
I [coincidentally] played this while riding the light rail to/from work and beat it in a few days (a few hours total of gameplay).
What really sets this game apart is the writing, world building, and character development. The existence of multiple levels of sentience, each given just enough to perform their given function, gives an interesting variance to the androids you meet, but also a good in-game explanation for the “robotic” dialogue that results from the rigid dialogue based gameplay.
An android’s purpose is heavily tied through all aspects of the game and the resentment of humans, the discrimination and lack of freedom of android’s and their role in human society is entirely revealed through dialogue choices and conversation. I greatly appreciated the way the game presents it’s view of a possible future human/robot society.
What really grabbed me though was the ending–a choice between the status quo and something else. There is no androids vs humans, but merely androids+humans who want things to stay the same, and humans+androids who want to radically change how society is structured and the roles of both humans and androids there in. The choice? Entirely in the protagonist’s hands. The android leading the revolt is only of mid intelligence and wanted to make sure he was making the correct choice–so he deceived you and set you down investigating the case to lead you to learn about the lives of androids and the current state of society. The kicker? If you want to favor the revolution, your character must choose to kill himself (otherwise the automatic uplink will inform your superiors of the plot and allow them to thwart the revolt).
I found this lack of a black and white, humans vs androids twist to be extremely refreshing and the choice at the end very much a difficult choice to make. The way they also tied our character’s ignorance to our own, with the gameplay meant to reveal information about the world (dependent on our dialogue choices), and a choice informed by what we learned resulted in a fantastically executed dialogue game that otherwise could have been lackluster.