Viewfinder review – A stylish and clever perspective gameplay lesson

Estimated read time 10 min read

He did a surprise appearance at the last Game Awards by announcing a release soon, Viewfinder will be available this July 18 on PC via Steam and PlayStation 5. The game developed by Scottish Sad Owl Studios under the supervision of Thunderful Games (Planet of Lana recently) is played in the first person and places us in an alternate universe where photographs, drawings and other artistic representations can be manipulated to play with perspective and thus allow the creation of passages and other surprises in a set of environmental puzzles with a point of storytelling. Put on your glasses and take some paracetamol, it’s going to get hot up there.

Test conditions: The futuristic and multidimensional universe of Viewfinder kept us in its films for nearly 8 hours on PlayStation 5. Even if this test is guaranteed without major narrative spoilers, we cannot fail to mention certain aspects of the scenario of basis to tell you the context.

Ready Player One only better

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The storyline of Viewfinder takes us straight to a future (hopefully not too close) in which the planet finds itself in fire and blood following a complete disruption of the weather. Indeed, the effects of the Sun are dramatic and the meteorological conditions are so degraded that a pair of researchers is trying to get their hands on a meteorological disruptor invented by brilliant scientists decades ago, with the aim of bringing back a climate healthy on Earth.

The problem is that this technology would have remained in a kind of alternate reality, accessible only via a machine that could be likened to the Animus in the saga. Assassin’s Creed. You will discover this after several levels as well as the reality of your world, before quickly being back in this alternate world in which everything is possible. Indeed, you will be able to manipulate all kinds of illustrations in order to create paths, decorative elements, etc. almost to infinity or at least in the way you want.

Through 5 separate workspacesmostly related to the 4 distinguished scientists constituting the core group since disappeared, you will have to cross no less than 70 levels some of which can greatly put a spoke in your wheels. As everything is a question of perspective, it will not take too long to free yourself from the usual steps to solve a puzzle. Does this photo showing a building seem useless to you? Try to lay this building down and make it a bridge to cross over. Those who have already played Portal Or Superliminal released in 2019, will quickly feel on familiar ground. Because even if it seems impossible to you, you might be surprised at the possibilities offered by the game.

Even if the whole could make believe in a “simple” sequence of levels without link between them, this is however not the case. Because there is a real issue and a real common thread in Viewfinder : a context which is constantly reminded to you by numerous audio recordings of the team of yesteryear, handwritten notes but also the interventions of CAIT, a chat based on artificial intelligence, which is an integral part of the program, and which does not is reminiscent of good old Chester in Alice in Wonderland. And yes, he is too cute. It will accompany you throughout your research to enlighten you on past scientists but also on what you are really looking for here.

We were also pleasantly surprised by the end of the adventure, which comes after about 5 hours of play depending on your galleys to find the solutions to the proposed enigmas, and which occurs after a very high and very “timid” final level. Because yes, there are timed levels in Viewfinderand they will not give you the expected satisfaction so easily.

Thanks to its end that could be described as open, the studio now has all the cards in hand to offer a sequel to the adventures of your character, as the whole remains convincing, scriptwise speaking as we have seen, but also in terms of handling and gameplay possibilities.

Between sketches and drawings, there’s no photo!

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As a “visor”, as in the cinema, you will have to find the right plan, the right perspective to highlight the various decorations and objects surrounding you. In turn, you will have to use photographs, sketches, drawings, posters, watercolors, cartoons, maps etc., everything that comes close to art in the broad sense, thanks to a combination of very simple keys to understand: you pick up the photographs using Square, you take them in hand with L2, you rotate them if necessary with your joystick and you validate the position with R2.

Rest assured, you also have the ability to jump, an ability that can even be improved by completing certain challenges, but you can also rewind the scenes in which you move. Indeed, this mechanism appears very early in the adventure and will allow you, by pressing Circle, to rewind the game and thus find yourself in your previous place, cancel an action, prevent a fall, etc., ad infinitum. Until the beginning of the level, even, if you wish, with a pleasant shortcut of two quick button presses to return to the last major action (object manipulation etc.).

This feature is welcome and encourages risk-taking and unsuccessful attempts. Because sometimes you may only have a specific number of photos or even objects to pick up that you could simply make disappear by accidentally placing a drawing or a photo in the background, shaving everything in its path. Rest assured, even if you do not have objectives constantly on the screen and no indication is given to you, the goal is always the same: activate a teleporter using batteries, or join said teleporter, to continue the level or complete it.

Multiple gameplay situations will therefore reach you: manipulation of music to switch on electrical circuits, reconstitution of paintings by lining up properly in front of several parts of frames and thus really displaying the reconstructed decor, teleportation of your character using a photo of itself via devices made available, duplication of batteries by taking pictures or photocopying them etc., In Viewfinderanything goes as long as you reach the goaland there is something satisfying about having great freedom in a game that is quite corridor.

And it is generally the feeling that emerges from the experience Viewfinder : the developers manage to bring us into their universe, by offering something other than the usual puzzle games, giving a kind of fun, exotic and rewarding lesson in gameplay from which many productions should draw inspiration. They also wanted to implement a mechanic of healing, calm and observation with multiple chairs, benches and armchairs on which you can sit and observe your environment even if the desire to continue should be stronger.

Sometimes you’ll even have to go through various portals with different effects to progress, where in some levels the elements will change in real time to lose you even more in these labyrinths of voxels. Finally, note that after a while you will get a personal Polaroid, allowing you to take any photo you want to use then to progress in the decor. But be careful not to destroy the teleporter or you’ll have to rewind and find another path.

A feature that must require a lot of resources from the game, which slashes everything else on the artistic side, focusing only on the simple platforms of the levels crossed. We hear here that the artistic direction of Viewfinder convinced us without filling that much the environments crossed. This camera will contain a limited number of photographs most of the time, once again forcing you to think hard to find the solution. And be careful, because gravity comes into play, and sometimes you will even have to use it to progress.

As we said, CAIT the cat will accompany you during all the levels you go through and will offer you additional information on the past history of virtual simulation, but also philosophical reflections. But you won’t just be tracked by CAIT, since although your character won’t really be visible, even in photography, he won’t speak either, only your sidekick, Jessie, will phone you from the real world via hidden booths in some levels, in order to advance the general story, reinforcing the narrative aspect of the title which manages to be balanced in all its aspects.

We still have knots in the brain

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Although it would have been possible to propose Viewfinder on Sony’s previous console, it is still easy to understand the choices made by the development team: due to the multitude of objects, perspectives and possibilities to be calculated in real time, it seems easier to run it on a PC and PlayStation 5. We haven’t noticed any particular slowdowns or bugs, apart from those that we caused ourselves in a corner of the modified decor, while the sound and visual staging is very simple but works perfectly.

The original voices (subtitled in French) are also very convincing, allowing each of the speakers to bring out their own personality even if we regret the absence of a striking musical theme. With all these aspects, we easily feel the work of 4 years of hard work for the Scottish teams of Sad Owl Studios to deliver us an almost perfect copy, fluid and with a somewhat cartoonish rendering that is very pleasing to the eye. However, we could have blame Viewfinder not to be more ambitious in its staging in order to break the somewhat monotonous rhythm of part of the adventure and to surprise the players a little more.

And if you’re worried about not having enough time or gray matter to devote to the puzzles which can be quite tricky, Viewfinder will offer you help. After long minutes of testing all the same, these clues are however not adaptable according to your progress in solving the riddle and sometimes only offering vague information that does not necessarily help you. No doubt the gaming community will offer more help if needed. We also don’t have not at all impressed by the management of the touchpad of the Dualsensewhich allows you to move the camera in a very complete way, but which makes too big movements at the slightest touch, making the whole thing very unpleasant and allowing us to appreciate the joysticks much more.

Finally, note that a good amount of collectibles is to be picked up, approximately one per level crossed, in the form of objects such as Mahjong pieces, ducks etc. Filters for your photos are to be unlocked so that they appear in negative, in black and white, plan way etc. and hidden trophies are also in the game, unlocked according to your explorations and unsuccessful attempts or if you drop a battery on your head for example, but shh, we didn’t tell you anything!

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