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Eerie crackles and a distorted howl, ominous yet mournful music, a slow text intro: all set the tone for Silt, an intriguing horror-tinged puzzle adventure debut from small indie developer Spiral Circus.
After setting the tone we begin as a captive diver chained to the seabed. How and why are not immediately explained – though implied as you progress – but through the aid of being able to somehow possess nearby sea life and utilising their innate abilities you are able to escape captivity and venture further.
Sound and visuals play a considerable role in giving Silt its identity. For all the faults in the game – and there are a few – you cannot deny the impressive vision in this little indie title. Many areas make you want to keep clicking the screen-capture button, in awe at the grandeur amidst the sparse alien depths.
The sense of isolation and threat that the sound effects and music place on the gameplay additionally help to drive you on and give the player a sense of tension in every puzzle.
Progressing through the game means linearly exploring new areas and overcoming each new puzzle or obstacle in your path. Many puzzles are short but some are rather long and intricate, requiring much experimentation and patience to beat.
One of the frustrations of Silt is that dying will force you to start that area again and for those more difficult intricate, expansive and lengthy puzzles it can really grate. Still, the atmosphere of Silt and its art style really helps to draw you in and entice you to keep trying (albeit begrudgingly at times).
The diver is a rather passive figure whose only ability is to swim (agonisingly slowly) and use the possession skill. The possession skill can be slow and imprecise. In more crowded areas with different creatures crammed into the same space, it can be a coin-toss which one you successfully possess. Frequently it won’t be the one you want.
At around three hours the game isn’t overly long – and thankfully ends before the flaws of the title really start to bite.
The real variety in the game is in the different fauna you can possess to beat the obstacles – some fish have sharp teeth, hammerhead sharks can break cracked walls, rays can teleport through spaces, electric eels can zippity-zap, crabs are indestructible spanners to break machines, etc. It is rather fun to see what each critter brings to the table.
The backgrounds in certain areas can be awe-inspiring. Mysterious structures, abandoned statues and machines, detailed bosses – all really grab your attention to make up for the regular exploration stages in which there is very little to look at. Perhaps if the developer had more time they would have given the same attention to detail to the broader game, though it can also be said that the bland exploration pieces really help emphasise the areas of greater importance to what serves as the plot and lore of this world.
Overall the game is a really interesting and impressive debut from a small studio. Silt isn’t for everyone but it is definitely worth a look for those that like mood and visuals in their games.
Nintendo Switch review code provided by Spiral Circus. Silt is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4|PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.