South of the Circle Review (Switch)
There is a popular mantra repeated by Mount Everest climbers: the summit is optional, the return is mandatory. The freezing cold, extreme altitude and general exhaustion can easily overwhelm any hopeful summit, who, if too impatient, can quickly take their own grave on top of the world. But those with the will, the mental toughness, and the strength to keep going can safely go there and back, overcoming all odds in this frozen death zone. Only one place matches the tallest mountain on Earth in its allure, danger, and beauty: the South Pole.
It is this white hell that South of the circle explores with its stunning art direction and scintillating storytelling. Developed by BAFTA State of Play winners and published by 11 Bit Studios (frostpunk), South of the circle depicts one man’s fateful journey to the southernmost point on Earth as he battles the elements and odds while coming to terms with his past. Set in the Cold War era of the 1960s, South of the circle a unique setting and cinematic shots tease a promising experience, but does it measure up? Only one way to find out!
South of the circle has players taking on the role of Peter, a Cambridge graduate student, who finds himself in extreme danger when his plane crashes in Antarctica. With his co-pilot injured and barely a soul in sight, Peter must bravely soar through the wind and snow, following only a flashing red dot that flickers hopefully against the blinding whiteness. Along the way, Peter will have flashbacks to his past, meeting his love Clara, struggling to get his work recognized, and other key moments in his life that led him to this exact moment. Intertwined with these memories is the cold, bitter juxtaposition of the present and its struggle to survive; how he handles those adrenaline rushes makes or breaks his future.
The controls are extremely simple in South of the Circle. For the most part, players will press 1-3 buttons to choose between dialogue options – uh, dialogue emotions, I guess I should say, because a response will be tagged with various emotions to convey different moods, such as l apprehension or trust. . Starting your first conversation with Clara can be confident and cheerful, or it can be nervous and uncertain. The voice acting is strong and varied, delivering those answers in a believable and entertaining way.
At other times, players will need to drive Peter from point A to point B, through deep snow, beautiful mountain scenery, or seaside villas. is mostly about moving on to the next story stage instead of, say, collecting items or the like. An extremely cinematic experience, South of the circle keeps the camera angles following Peter tight and controlled, yet fluid enough for players to feel that all-important sense of progression. In truth, South of the circle looks more like a playable movie than anything else!
It is this fact that gamers can get frustrated while playing South of the circle — it’s really like playing a movie. The choices, while interesting and varied, don’t really matter, and the game will automatically make choices for you if you don’t do anything. Sure, there are different dialogue options to hear, but it all ends the same way, so there’s no real reason to play multiple times, which is a little disappointing. It’s less of an adventure game across the South Pole and more of a scintillating movie through space and time. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s something to keep in mind before playing. Set your expectations accordingly!
South of the circle definitely looks and feels like it was created by a BAFTA-winning team, which means gamers should know they’re getting into an artistic endeavor instead of an action-packed adventure. Sure, there’s action and adventure, but it’s more of a passive movie than an active experience. As long as you set your expectations accordingly, South of the circle will delight (and chill!) anyone looking for a unique setting and an exciting story.
Final verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Apple Arcade, PC, XBox One, XBox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Switch (revised); Publisher: 11 Bit Studios; Developer: Inventory; Players: 1; Released: August 3, 2022; MSRP: $12.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a digital copy of South of the Circle provided by the publisher.