SOUTH of the Circle is a compelling narrative gaming experience taking place in Cold War-era Antarctica.
Originally released on Apple Arcade, for IOS and MAC, the game is now available on Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4/5, and Xbox. This review is focused on the experience of this game on the Nintendo Switch.
Set in the 1960’s during the Cold War, South of the Circle explores themes that are relevant to current times; war and propaganda, love and loss, and determination in the face of uncertainty. You follow Peter, a Cambridge academic, who has a disastrous beginning to his research mission in Antarctica.
On route to their destination Peter and his pilot face perilous weather conditions and crash their plane. Peter battles injuries and storms to seek help for himself and the injured pilot. His journey for help is interwoven with memories from his childhood, academic career, and romantic endeavours.
The transitions between reality and Peter’s memories were thoughtfully and thematically intertwined.
The gameplay style of South of the Circle can be best described as a walking simulator. The primary interaction in the game is choosing dialogue options during conversations with other characters in Antarctica and in Peter’s memories. Selecting dialogue options feels intuitive as the choices are presented as what emotion you would like to respond with.
Unlike Telltale games, it is assumed that you have responded and not chosen to remain silent if you miss a dialogue prompt.
You are required to aim during periods of driving or walking, and occasionally prompted to press a button to interact with an object. There is no need for dexterity or fast reaction times to play through this game.
At no time during the game was I challenged by the gameplay. South of the Circle is an accessible entry to gaming for people who might not consider themselves gamers.
The visual design of South of the Circle was minimalistic and striking. Strategic use of colour blocking and bold lighting design, as well as subtle camera movement, created visually dynamic scenes.
The sound design was particularly notable during the scenes set in outdoor environments. The whipping winds during the stormy sections of gameplay created immersion and urgency. The voice acting and chemistry between the characters in game was superb
South of the Circle is well suited to the Nintendo Switch – perfect for hand held gaming and a small screen. I tried playing docked mode with the game displayed on my TV, but the intimate nature of the story felt minimised by the distance from the screen.
A playthrough of South of the Circle will take around four to five hours.
As a word of warning to those who seek a non-ambiguous ending to narrative games, be prepared for the conclusion to leave you with a few questions without a clear answer.
After completing the game, I found myself looking up some of the Cold War references mentioned. I was pleasantly surprised with care taken by the developers of game to maintain historical accuracy where possible.
I add this game to the list of games that I would whole-heartedly recommend to people who don’t consider themselves gamers but appreciate a well crafted story – Firewatch, Florence, Rumu, Tacoma, and now South of the Circle.
If you are looking for a break from fast paced gaming, and have in interest in historical based fiction, South of the Circle is a must try.