June 17, 2024
Manipulate the world around you with some photo-surrealism, Viewfinder is a photography puzzler you need to snap up. The Finger Guns review:

I’m not someone that’ll seek out puzzle games because I’m just bad at them, even if it’s not the focus. Whether it’s Atreus giving me hints in God of War: Ragnarök or doing the exhaustive method of a quick search online, I’ve become accustomed to alleviating any brain friction almost immediately.

However, when I saw Viewfinder pre-release and played the demo a few weeks back, all my reservations were quelled. The demo – which I implore you to try – was an instant snapshot of why this game just clicks. From the first-person perspective, you take photos, hold them up and then release them, creating what once was 2D into a now 3D space to explore. It’s a simple concept to start but then becomes deceptively deep the further down the aperture you go.

Finding The Subject

The game starts abruptly as you’re instantly in this dream-like world. The vistas are unattainable and the floor below suffers that same fate as Spider-Man on the PSOne. You’re atop floating platforms all brimming with a personality, almost like an imagined zen area for potential inhabitants. Scotch eggs, evil eyes hanging on walls, ornate cushions and a lot of places to sit.

The environmental storytelling is rich and does an outstanding job of making you feel invited despite the intentions of why you’re there being unknown. You’re initially hearing the voice of Jessie as you go through the tutorial and the first couple of levels. There’s nothing overtly expository, but there are a handful of Forspoken-level lines that are just plain bad, no better way to describe it. We do move on from that level of dialogue though when you meet Cait, an AI cat designed to maintain the domains you explore.

Cait does a lot of the legwork for explaining what’s going on with their dulcet tones, though there are gramophones and files to read that bolster the story. Without giving too much of the plot away, there is a creator and other scientists, designers and architects that have helped build this supposed utopia. What I didn’t expect, however, was a personable and emotive story between the characters you learn about. This aspect doesn’t get in the way of the game as you’re invited to seek out the story, but it’s an amazing accompaniment.

Lining Up The Shot

I’ve put off talking gameplay enough. In stark contrast to the subtle storytelling, the gameplay is right at the forefront and rightfully so. The main mechanic as I’ve already explained is holding photos up on the level with L2 and pressing R2 to click it into place, creating a 2D printed image into a 3D explorable environment. What this effectively does is replace what was already on the level, so you have to be mindful that you don’t damage integral parts of the level like the teleporter that you progress with.

At the start, you’ll find these photos in the level, but you’ll not long be taking your own photos with an instant camera. This opens up more puzzle opportunities and overall fun experiments tenfold. I don’t think there was a single level where I just went and solved the puzzle. Instead, I tried to discover the limits and discover all that there was to find and to my delight, there was always a trinket or collectible at the other end.

It’s not just photos, but paintings, drawings, game screens a… barcode? All with the ability to shift the reality of the level. For the 4-6 hour playtime for the platinum trophy, Viewfinder never felt like it overstayed its welcome. The progression in how the puzzles change or differ is paced exceptionally and for the most part, feels natural as you learn the parameters. I did get stuck a couple of times and at that point, I’d step away from playing. My mind was still in the world, however, as I had full-blown eureka moments playing out the game in my head as I went about the day.

Releasing The Shutter

Games are special when they start living in your head rent-free. Figuring out how the game plays without actively doing it, really solidified the addictive excellence Viewfinder has. It plays perfectly with a myriad of settings to change to cater to your preference. Outside of the one timed level, there really isn’t any pressure to complete it. What also compliments that, is the rewind mechanic where if you fudge your photo placement or fall into a pit you can hold circle, and like a VHS you can control where you go back.

Levels are doable in 10 seconds or 2 minutes if you’re not at a mental roadblock. There are never too many building blocks of puzzle mechanics where it ever starts to overcomplicate, so you always feel like you’re making fast and gratifying progress. To accompany the brilliant gameplay is the audio/visuals. I’ve already gone into detail with some of the environmental storytelling the game does, but I can’t overstate enough how the game’s minimal, yet somehow lush level design is incredible. Colours are vibrant and inviting, the architecture is encompassing but not verbose and there’s just an overall serenity the game has in spades.

This is only complimented by the soundscape. Viewfinder’s music doesn’t distract, rather it lends an ambience matched with the visuals alongside diegetic sounds of wind chimes or rain. The game operates on subtle oxymorons, like the gameplay keeping your brain on edge, whilst the surroundings relax you. The general uplifting presentation is met with a story that expresses our immediate worries about the world. All of it feels balanced, refined and overall a satisfying game front to back.

Capturing The Image

There’s not much else I can say about Viewfinder without going in-depth and spoiling the surprises it has in store. There are potentially some bits I missed, but I do think the overall narrative is too abrupt particularly the ending. Similar to Stray, the game ends where it feels like it could start, and maybe a potential sequel will make the complaint moot.

The Hints system really is a nudge and wink, rather than a decent explanation which felt frustrating more than helpful. On top of that, some of the dialogue was cringe-inducing. These gripes are however blemishes when I look at the big picture, as what the game pulls off here is a puzzle game that can rightfully go toe-to-toe with the Portal series.

The ingenuity, creativity and presentation are top-shelf and a must-play for anyone who enjoys puzzle games. Even if you’re like me and consider yourself to be disastrously bad at them, Viewfinder is so much fun. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome, if anything I could have done with one or two more chapters, but that just describes the addictiveness of the puzzles.

Viewfinder is a point-and-shoot puzzler that just clicks. The reality-shifting photography mechanic is an exceptional feat that rivals Titans in the genre. The overall presentation only improves Viewfinder as it lets the gameplay shine, whilst matching its quality for the most part. The story could’ve been more outward to give more motive but an overall excellent puzzle game.

Viewfinder is available now for PlayStation 5 and PC via Steam.

Developer: Sad Owl Studios

Publisher: Thunderful Publishing

Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.

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