In the not-too-distant future, humanity has found itself at the mercy of disease. As the world is edging towards the brink of collapse, potential help just falls in our laps.
Coincidence? That’s for you to find out. Quarantine Circular follows in the footsteps of Mike Bithell’s previous game, Subsurface Circular, but instead of putting you in the shoes of a robot detective, your goal is to navigate first contact with an alien species while attempting to solve the looming extinction of the human race.
Like with Subsurface Circular, Quarantine Circular‘s gameplay is one of conversation and light puzzle solving. Gameplay is extremely simple, as you’ll just be making decisions in conversations, asking and answering questions, and trying to follow the plot to the optimal conclusion (unless you’re a sadist of course). Luckily, it isn’t terribly difficult.
Similar to its predecessor, it’s impossible to fail any of the puzzles, but they’re few and far between. I do recall getting stuck on one in particular though, which was made even more infuriating because I couldn’t just fail my way through it. Seriously, if I get to the point where I’m just guessing, just make me lose. I’d rather lose than be driven to the point of launching my mouse across the living room.
Frustrations aside, I found the similarities to Subsurface Circular to be welcoming. Focus Points play less of a role this time around, but there’s far more importance placed on the various decision points. Like with titles from Telltale Games’ catalog, there are a number of moments where your decisions can impact the story later, though Quarantine Circular doesn’t go so far as to overtly inform you that “[So-and-so] will remember that”.
My only disappointment was with how easily the human characters and their alien captive are able to bridge the language barrier. I understand that there’s some techno-magic involved, but I felt like it was far too easy to go from absolutely no understanding between the alien and humans to complete fluency. I get it… It wasn’t supposed to be a translation simulator, but I really enjoyed the idea of having to negotiate the gap in understanding and I feel like it was a missed opportunity.
I don’t mean to sound like I’m bagging on Quarantine Circular for its looks, but there isn’t much to it really. The character animations are very static, and despite the new characters including human beings, they look stiff and robotic. They don’t really need to move much. At least the characters aren’t nearly as “animated” as the ones in games like Deus Ex: Mankind Divided… Regardless, the visuals aren’t the focus of a game like this.
The music is enjoyable though! It’s definitely sci-fi in nature, but there’s a good bit of calming vibes to enjoy too.
While it isn’t exactly breaking the mold that formed Subsurface Circular, it’s different enough to justify being a separate experience, which is saying a lot in this era of continuous churning out of games. Where the previous conversation sim focused on an individual with only two possible endings, Quarantine Circular puts you in the boots of everyone on the boat at one point or another. It makes for an interesting game, because each character’s disposition towards one another depend on how you handle the situation.
I did enjoy the humor featured throughout, but while it does take the time to introduce funny moments, that isn’t the primary focus. It reminds me of older movies which had moments of levity surrounded by the rest of the plot.
Quarantine Circular doesn’t take you on a globetrotting adventure in a race against time to stop an invasion or find the cure. Instead, you’re confined to a single ship in the middle of a calm ocean. Sure, it’s possible to find a cure for the epidemic driving humans to the brink of extinction, but the story doesn’t always include a happy ending. In fact, on my first playthrough, I screwed up… big time.
What I found interesting is that I didn’t feel like I failed. Don’t get me wrong; I definitely failed humanity, but how could they have expected me to do any better? It isn’t like there’s a handbook to handle this sort of thing! Monumental failures aside, I found the plot itself to be gripping because it tackles an issue that is plaguing modern society. The epidemic in question isn’t anything like super-ebola or a zombie virus, but an antibiotic resistant strain of bacteria. It’s an issue which is becoming a growing concern in the medical community, because people are overusing and misusing antibiotics on a regular basis. The task thrust upon the player is to try and negotiate cooperation between humans and the alien captive to see if a new friend can be made and the two species can figure out how to solve the problem
Being a super nerd myself and finding interest in the topic of epidemiology and all that jazz, I got sucked in. Furthermore, it’s awesome to see developers do their homework about potential treatments of this particular type of medical problem. It’s also worth noting that while there’s no time limit imposed, there’s still a looming sense of urgency to motivate the player to press forward. Other developers should take note of this.
WILDCARD: SINGLEPLAYER CHESS
One issue in particular hurts Quarantine Circular however. While it’s interesting to play the game from multiple perspectives, it’s difficult to avoid influencing the outcome you want to see. Anyone who has (for whatever odd reason) decided to play a game of chess against themselves, quickly realizes that it’s extremely easy to steer the outcome to the one you want to see. The developer did an admirable job creating conflicting objectives for the characters, but it’s simple to pick the decisions you know will undermine the efforts of the characters you don’t want to see succeed.
Still, the choices you’re given don’t go so far as to be out of character for each individual. Perhaps I over-analyze decisions in games and that’s what makes it possible for me to steer the story in the direction I want to go. I wish I had a solution to this design problem, but I don’t know what could be done. Handing control of conflicting characters to the player isn’t an easy hurdle to overcome, which might be why so few developers try it.
While it has its faults, Quarantine Circular is easily worth its price. The narrative focus is interesting not only because of the subject matter covered, but the potential for replayability. I’m honestly contemplating playing it yet again to discover just how badly I can screw things up. So even though I feel like they didn’t do enough to convince me this is a first contact experience (I still don’t get how they understand each other so quickly) and the multiple perspectives can undermine the tension, I really enjoyed every moment with it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with disaster.
Does Quarantine Circular sound interesting? Have you already played it? Are narrative-focused games your jam?
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