You wake up in a strange place, right after a botched suicide attempt. A voice speaks to you and tells you to follow him. So what do you do? You follow it of course, as its latest subject, Subject 13.
Developer: Paul Cuisset & Microids
Publisher: Gravity Europe SAS
Release Date: May 2015
Played: Main Story
Subject 13 is a point & click adventure game designed and developed by Paul Cuisset, the creator of Flashback: The Quest for Identity, one of my favourite games of all time. When Microids approached me for the opportunity to review it, I jumped at the chance!
The opening sequence shows our character drowning before he’s transported to the island where the rest of the game takes place. Once on his feet, a voice greets him and tells him he has to pass some tests as his new test subject. The first one is making it out of the laboratory complex to which the entity transported him.
The plot itself isn’t very deep, though the scientific concepts thrown around are quite intriguing as is the non-sequential storytelling. Subject 13 doesn’t spoon feed you the story (at least not until the end, when it kinda does), but instead you find Testimonies of the island’s previous inhabitants and each tells a piece of the story, giving you hints as to what is really going on. The more you advance the less subtle these clues are and more obvious everything becomes. But I applaud this form of storytelling, as the testimonies are mostly optional, leaving it up to the player to find all of them.
There is a problem however and that is that as you pick up more lore fragments and advance to the end, the gaping plot holes become apparent. The game’s ending not only makes these worse but also makes the entire thing feel more of a prologue than a full game. The short snippet of dialogue you hear at the end, sparks enough curiosity that you’d expect the game to continue from there, to open up and give you more. Sadly, it doesn’t and it makes Subject 13 feel entirely too short, as it can be completed in just a couple of hours if the puzzles don’t stump you.
Characterisation is disappointing. The protagonist is flat as a board and has no real depth to him. The villain is ridiculous and between the two of them, and the other ‘guest’, they can’t even carry the plot convincingly.
Subject 13 attempts to make this a story of acceptance, of learning to live with the consequences of your decisions and the path you’ve set out for yourself, but also wants to deliver a bit hope of second chances, but the characters fail to transmit either of them.
Subject 13’s soundtrack is very good. The pieces are all moody and complement their environments. There are a few recurring ones, especially when you’re puzzle solving and they become not forgettable but an anthem to the puzzling, which is quite nice. The game even includes a beautiful melody that acts as a puzzle solution jingle, similar to those found in Gabriel Knight. Voice acting is horrendous though. Usually in plot-driven games, the tendency is to overact, but Subject 13 goes in the opposite direction with soulless voice actors that read out their parts as they would a furniture catalogue. Even the main character fails to convey any emotion convincingly, making it sound as if he doesn’t give a damn about anything. It starts out decent but as the game progresses, he too loses all emotion and just gives a flat performance.
Gameplay is the game’s strongest point. Subject 13 mixes 3rd and 1st person point & click adventure styles. Exploration is in a 3rd person perspective but interactions, either with items or the environment, shift perspectives to 1st person. You’ll often have close-ups, where you’ll only see the particular segment of the scene that corresponds to the hotspot. It’s minimalistic and lets you focus on the task at hand without any distractions. One thing I like in particular is that once you click to investigate—the magnifying glass on the action wheel—the game will instantly switch to the close-up without waiting for the character to actually reach it. It’s another smart decision that gets you to the puzzling as fast as possible.
There are things in Subject 13 that reminded me of Fireproof Games’ The Room titles and it’s the fact you need actually make the motions to open books and lids and unscrew panels. It’s a nice addition and one you rarely see on PC games.
The puzzles themselves are intriguing, some are easier than others but the design is solid. There is one involving Aztec math that I found outstanding. Sadly, Paul Cuisset decided to end his game not with another original and interesting puzzle but by adding Minesweeper as the final challenge. But it’s not only Minesweeper, it’s holographic lens-flare minesweeper activated by an item, so every time you fail, you need to remove and replace the item. It gets old really fast. On my playthrough it even bugged out. First, some of the cells didn’t disappear when it turned off and then overlapped with the new ones, creating confusion. And second, it wouldn’t register that I’d completed the puzzle correctly leaving me with no choice but to restart the save point and the puzzle from the start.
I’ll be perfectly honest: Don’t EVER add Minesweeper to your game as a puzzle. It’s a frustrating game on its own and with a high degree of failure, with more chance involved than strategy. It killed all the fun I was having with Subject 13.
Visual design is a mixed bag. Environments are gorgeous and highly detailed and you’ll often have close-ups of different objects and you can see just how gorgeous they are. You can tell the effort that went into creating them and it pays off. They convey the tone of mystery in the lab and the quiet abandonment of the island better than the voice acting and writing ever could. On the other hand, the character models—two of them and a floating head—leave a lot to be desired and it’s clear the same effort that went into the locations didn’t go into them.
Subject 13 feels like the first episode in a larger game. While the puzzles are overall interesting, the decision to add Minesweeper at the end was a fatal one. The characterisation and plot fail to impress, as do the voice acting and character modelling.
2.5/5 – Average