Picture Perfect Puzzling
HIGH Some of the most clever puzzle design I’ve seen
LOW The timed puzzles
WTF Broken Cameras
Hi everyone! Eugene Sax here with another review from GameCritics.com!
I like puzzles, up until I don’t.
I’m not ashamed to admit that there have definitely been times when I needed to look at a guide or walkthrough just to be able to continue gameplay, and puzzles don’t feel great when I have to search out help to get the answer.
On the other side, there are puzzles that feel almost too easy and the “puzzle” is just busywork to pad out the running time of a game, which doesn’t feel great either.
Viewfinder threads the needle by making its solutions vague enough to be challenging, but also offers forgiveness in the solutions with answers that don’t need to be perfect.
Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle title that has players going through the remains of digital worlds created by a group of scientists working on a revolutionary project. It’s up to the player to find whatever the scientists left behind, mainly by using… pictures. As players explore, they’ll will find images that they can hold up and place in the world. When they do, the picture then becomes tangible, and the player can interact with it.
For example, there might be two platforms with a gap between them, and the player has a picture of a bridge. Players can visually line up the bridge image with the real-world gap in the platforms, and then set the bridge in the world so they can cross the gap. If they place a picture wrong, or place the picture in such a way that they can’t complete the level (like placing a photo that erases the exit) players can hold a button to rewind and then place the picture in a different spot.
Without spoiling too much, Viewfinder doesn’t hold on to any one particular gimmick like this bridge trick long enough to become stale. For each set of puzzles, it introduces a new gimmick in some way, then a puzzle or two that expands on it, and then finally some advanced puzzle options. Players then move onto another gimmick altogether.
The best part, though, is that it feels like each puzzle has a range of solutions. Viewfinder feels as though it exists in the same space as something like Portal or Scribblenauts — the solution can be obtained a couple of different ways.
One obstacle required me to take a picture of an unreachable exit and put it in a new place where I could actually get to it. However, I found a way to snap a picture of the level and place it so that I could reach the exit where it was. It was the complete opposite of the intended solution, but it still worked.
Thankfully, Viewfinder realizes that placing photos around the world won’t be an exact science, and that geometry may not line up in every occasion. Smartly, there’s a sense of ‘close enough’ and the game sorts itself out to allow players to progress… Well, right up until the final set of puzzles, that is.
The last set consists of nine puzzles that must be solved within a time limit. If players have to rewind time to place a picture differently or to erase a mistake, the timer keeps moving forward regardless. Players who miss a key element early on will find themselves rewinding a lot in order to get back on track, and that rewinding eats away at the time they have.
That said, this one single gripe shouldn’t dissuade players from Viewfinder when the rest of it is so great. While the story is pretty obvious from the jump, I still enjoyed it and the great sense of atmosphere that abounds — I was eager to dive deeper, and the flexibility of the puzzles always made me feel clever. In that sense, Viewfinder is an experience I’d readily recommend to anyone, whether they’re a puzzle aficionado or not.
For me, Viewfinder gets an 8.5 out of 10.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Sad Owl Studios and published by Thunderful Games. It is currently available on PC and PS5. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 4 hours of play were spent playing the game, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Language. There are a couple of times that “D***” comes up, but that’s about it.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is text in-game, and text is resizable. Audio mostly serves aesthetic purposes and is not needed for gameplay. The game is fully accessible.
Remappable controls: Controls are completely remappable.