We’re not sure if it’s something in the air, or if the world is just healing, but game demos are becoming a regular thing again. Final Fantasy XVI, Street Fighter 6, and Lies of P (to name a few) have all had successful demos this year, meaning they went right onto our ‘to buy’ list after the credits rolled. We wanted to replicate that, with our most recent foray into the PlayStation Store turned up Viewfinder, a new reality-shifting puzzle title from Sad Owl Studios (SOS) published under the Thunderful Games flag. It left us eager to pick this one up and play it all the way through, as any demo should. Fortunately, that’s a reality that’s not far away, as the game releases on PS5 and Steam on 18 July 2023.
Viewfinder isn’t like other games. Sure, it’s got all the makings of one; fantastically puzzling stages, a narrative that we’re keen to delve into, and a standard-issue jump button. But it’s also more than that. It’s an experience. One that left us rather downhearted to say goodbye to when the time came, which was necessary at around the twenty-five-minute mark.
Reshape Reality (no, seriously)
We stepped into Viewfinder eager to tackle whatever SOS had in store for us. Tackle it we did, though we only had access to what felt like the game’s tutorial and one (real) stage to give players a feel of the main mechanic: the Viewfinder. That might not sound like much but we suspect it was done to avoid giving too much of the game’s story right away (yes, there’s an intriguing story in there, too). Anyway, it’s a demo. It did its job.
Viewfinder tasks you with all the usual videogame chores. Look around, walk, jump – you get the idea. After stopping to stare at the roses (and retrieve our jaws), it was time to move on to the first goal. Crossing a bridge. We swear it’s more riveting than it sounds, helped along by the stunning visuals surrounding the player. Your character is led on by some ethereal voice that’s coming from, we think, the outside™. We reckon we’ll only get a lead on that particular aspect once the game hits the shelves, unfortunately.
It’s here that the game throws its first curveball, handing over the power of actual time travel to the player and tasking you with reversing time and mending the bridge you just broke. The game impresses upon players that this is a tool for mistakes, only to be called upon when needed, and not the main focus of the game. In truth, it reminded us a lot of Number None’s fantastic Braid – a plaudit that we don’t dole out to anyone.
Next, it was time for the main event: shifting reality. Doing so was simple. We took a different bridge to reach our goal of picking up a plain picture of an old archway with some black-and-white accents attached. Here, the game instructed us to point and aim the picture – just like you would in a Call of Duty title – press L2 or right-click to aim if you’re on PC. It’s the shooting where things begin to get interesting. Doing so will cause the picture to come to life. Not just the object in the picture, but the world surrounding it, too. The process takes a fraction of a second, putting the processor inside the PS5 to work. By the end, we were stuck staring at a chunk of a world that featured black-and-white skies and architecture completely at odds with the colourful world around us.
If our words aren’t doing a good enough job of explaining this game’s genius, we’ll just let the official trailer above do the talking.
From there, Viewfinder throws plenty of softballs at you, letting the player get to grips with what is and isn’t possible when bringing new worlds into your own, though it was more often a case of the former rather than the latter. Puzzles were scarce throughout, though we expect SOS is saving all that for the game’s full release. We travelled through images of 64-bit Doom levels, hand-drawn houses that were made by children, and a cartoony version of the Wild West.
Before long, it was time to get our grubby hands on a camera of our own, and a chance to prove ourselves worthy in the face of a real puzzle. Instead of finding pictures to fill out the world around us, we were able to create our own. Mechanically, the pictures work just like those you’d find out in the wild, just with a less-pleasing aesthetic attached.
We won’t pretend that the puzzle took us longer than a few minutes to solve and implement – which required us to create a sort of ‘duplication glitch’ on an item in question to power up the level’s teleporter – the goal of each stage. It was here that the game held us up, effectively telling us to wait ‘til 18 July 2023 to get our hands on the rest of the game. As if we needed to be told twice.