It’s not every day you run into a first-person puzzle game that frames things in a new way – and Viewfinder does that in the most literal sense. By challenging your perception of 2D photos in 3D spaces, it’s an engaging yet cozy way to play with the space around you. I had a quick window to see the demo at Summer Game Fest, and after getting home, I just had to download the demo on PlayStation 5 to get more time with this novel experience.
In Viewfinder, your only goal is to get to the end of a stage, usually marked by a teleporter. Getting to one, however, requires you to play with pictures. You essentially overwrite reality with whatever polaroid you’re holding up. If you need a bridge, grab a picture of something flat and rotate it to fit your reality.
The initial stages of the preview ease you into the idea, providing pictures that give you pretty obvious solutions. They also teach you about the different ways you can use pictures, playing with depth, polaroid rotation, and repeating patterns. And if you make an irreparable mistake, like falling down a pit or overwriting the exit, you can simply rewind things. It’s an elegant and approachable way to minimize any frustration.
Toward the end of the preview, I came across different images with wildly different art styles. One looked like a comic book, while another looked like a Monet painting. Then I brought a child’s drawing to life, and when I entered the house, I found a polaroid that looked like a first-person shooter from the ‘90s.
One of the coolest things about that whole sequence is looking back on the trail you’ve left behind. Without context, it looks a bit messy, admittedly. But when you’re the reason for the mess, it feels like art that you're responsible for, like you’ve left your mark on the game. All the world’s a painting, and the 3D space is your canvas.
That openness to express myself in the world really came to life when I got a polaroid camera, which the last stage of the Viewfinder demo gives you. Now, instead of using pre-made photos, you take these snapshots yourself. If you can’t reach that item, take a picture of it and overwrite your nearby reality with a duplicate. If you need a path around a fence, just delete the fence.
For example, one of the main mechanics here required me to put batteries on a platform to power the teleporter. I found one battery, but it’s on top of a tower I can’t climb. So there were two problems: How do I reach it, and how do I get more than one? By taking a picture of it, I placed a new battery on lower ground, within my reach. Another option could have been to rotate the picture so gravity would do the work for me. And to get another one? Just do it again -- or take a picture of that second battery and make a third.
With how freeform this system is, Viewfinder really exemplifies some of the best of the puzzle genre, where there isn’t always one solution. There are so many ways to solve a room that it’s also easy to break a room, but the handy rewind mechanic makes that a nonissue.
The freedom to simply take a photo and do what you want really changes the way you’ll see rooms in this game, and puzzle-game fans should have Viewfinder in their sights. It’s a playful, cozy, mentally stimulating experience that will hit PC and PlayStation 4 and 5 on July 18.
Viewfinder was previewed at Summer Game Fest Play Days and through the PlayStation 5 demo. Screenshots were taken from the PS5 demo.