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Jul 17, 2023

Viewfinder Review

Lights Off
4 Awesome
Retails for: $24.99
We Recommend: $24.99
  • Developer: Sad Owl Studios
  • Publisher: Thunderful Publishing
  • Genre: Adventure, Indie
  • Released: Jul 18, 2023
  • Platform: Windows, PlayStation 5
  • Reviewed: Windows

Viewfinder is a forced perspective first-person puzzler that gives you creative freedom to solve things the way you want. Comparisons will be drawn to Superliminal , but where that game used objects as the means to solve puzzles, Viewfinder instead uses photographs for its gimmick, and it’s a game that’s all the better for it. There’s lots to see and do in its relatively short run time, but you’ll compelled to see and do everything it has to offer. Nickelback said best: “look at this photograph”, and you’ll see that Viewfinder is one of this year’s best puzzlers.

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The game just kind of throws you in, and its story reveals itself through the course of playing. Confusingly the game gives you information from yourself, in recorded messages that was left for you to hear. There’s a mystery to unfold, and you’ll find its secrets are best for you to discover across your journey. I will say, the final level is the most frustrating and unenjoyable aspect, and hurts the experience. Making the last level suddenly a timed event, when only a few levels touched on this, does make sense for the story but is rather jarring. There are accessibility options to turn this off, and the game will even prompt you after a few attempts, but it’s a small speed bump in what is otherwise a smooth ride.

The game has five hub areas to explore. These will contain all the required levels as well as optional challenges. The optional hub areas unlock photo filters when you take photos for puzzles in-game. When it’s all said and done, my first playthrough took about five hours to complete, complete with time getting stumped and some timed puzzles being repeated. While a hub area connects the levels, it feels unnatural that you hop in and out of levels that really doesn’t feel cohesive. That said, it’s really easy to go back and replay levels for collectibles or just to experience something again with minimal friction.

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The basics to the gameplay is to manipulate the environment to reach the end of a level that is marked by a teleporter that must be powered up by batteries, switches, or pressure. In the early goings, navigating levels requires minimal manipulation of the space, and gets increasingly more complex. And thankfully does so with a steady incline, and so it’s not until the fourth and fifth chapter. Using a photograph you’ve picked up or taken imbues its depth into the world space. While most are pretty straightforward, sometimes you get some M.C. Escher looking places to see. There will be complications to your puzzle solving, so photos can be used to navigate around obstacles, or continue where there was no path. Eventually you’ll be rotating photos, taking your own with a Polaroid-esque camera, utilizing illusions to your advantage, and working around systems that prevent your photos working to their fullest. You can carry multiple photos at once, but once you’ve exited a level, they don’t come with you. It does seem that there’s multiple ways to solve a puzzle, with the intended way and some brute force methods that feel unorthodox.

I did find that it’s a too easy to mess up a level, and Sad Owl Studios did as well, as you can rewind to an earlier point, or completely restart a level. For instance, I grabbed a picture, and when I used it, it was “over” the battery that was there, and negated by ability to continue as I destroyed the battery. Each time you take or use a photo, it creates a checkpoint you can roll back to. So if you try something and it doesn’t work, or line up how you thought, you get another try at it. This mechanic keeps Viewfinder flexible while still demanding you achieve the goal close to how it wants. It’s definitely I came to appreciate during my time with the game.

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If after several attempts or many minutes, the game detects you could use some guidance. There will be a pop-up that enables a menu item to give you a hint that might just seal the deal in solving a puzzle. Other times there just might be an in-game hint to help, if you pay close enough attention.

I think Viewfinder has a fair bit of replayability. Firstly there’s collectibles to find in the first four chapters, and requires some exploration and creative thinking. Secondly, there’s a good number of achievements that request specific actions to unlock, giving you incentive to return. On the whole, the game is really clever and fun to showcase to friends and family, if you don’t want to show them the whole thing. I don’t think the story is anything worth writing home about, but it’s gameplay and systems are what’s going to be remembered going forward.

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Viewfinder is an incredibly gorgeous game, using the swath of pastels like aquas, oranges, and pinks to great effect. The game loads incredibly fast, runs at the highest of framerates, and has seamless transitions when going in and out of photos. And perhaps the biggest and best surprise of all, I encountered no bugs or issues while playing the game. It was just a flawless experience all around.

My PC Specs:

– Microsoft Windows 11 Pro
– Intel Core i9 13900K @ 5.8GHz
– ASUS ROG Strix GeForce RTX 4080 16GB GDDR6X
– WD_BLACK SN850X M.2 (4 TB)
– LG UltraGear 34GP950B-G (21:9 Ultrawide @ 3440×1440)

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Sad Owl Studios has a great gimmick in Viewfinder , and I hope we get additional content or games around it. There’s more than one trick up its sleeve, and the game continually keeps things fresh with new puzzle elements with each new chapter. Viewfinder stumbles at the finish line but it still gets there with a successful run. Viewfinder has mind-bending and mind-blowing puzzle design, that are sure to be talked about for years to come, and will be oft-remembered for how well it pulls it off.

A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes