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Review

Silt Review

June 23, 2022

By: Lee Mehr

 
 

Silt (noun): "fine sand, clay, or other material carried by running water and deposited as a sediment, especially in a channel or harbor."

Freshmen developer Spiral Circus landed on a perfectly-appropriate name for their first title. The black-and-white art style, evoking an atmosphere similar to LIMBO, oftentimes this minuscule layer of sediment within this world; like some of the graphite from Tom Mead’s penciled-in environments weren’t all cleared off the page. The dark depths of this mysterious sea you find yourself within constantly feel oppressive and uncompromising. Within its look and storytelling context, there's a layer of cloudiness that constantly surrounds you. And though Silt's exercise in atmosphere is masterfully done, it, unfortunately, doesn't deliver a full experience.

 

You assume the flippers of an unnamed scuba diver fettered to the sea floor, with only a fish to keep you company. Fortunately, you have the ability to possess specific sea life. As your ethereal essence starts snaking out of your helmet visor and into said fish, you're able to extricate yourself by biting the chain. From there, your overarching goal is about rediscovering a strange machine and bringing it back to life.

Silt Beginning
Been there before, buddy.

The beginning's design effectively highlights how integral possession is by getting top billing ahead over swimming. As you're navigating – practically forcing – your 'light tendril' into a nearby piranha, this fish's eye beams brightly while your previous home limply floats, waiting to be freed (or eaten and killed if you want to be cheeky with your newfound fish body). Then, with the press of a button, you snap back to your now-liberated diver self while that fish goes about its business. The puzzles may temporarily distract, but that wonder of who or what you are persistently hangs in the back of your mind.

 
 

As you move forward through this fleshy cavern – seemingly inspired by John Kenn Mortesen, this diver's point of origin starts to seem more ambiguous. What really matters though is solving how to get past this gloomy intestinal tract. Here your lesson expands to possessing multiple fish. Only a shoal of minnows can navigate a narrow alley that hides another piranha for you to hijack and bite through some obstructive cables. Each temporary subterranean ally serves a specific purpose, from the hammerhead shark being able to smash some barriers or manta rays that can teleport a short distance. It's all about solving how each one helps this diver safely navigate through these cavernous halls and ultimately defeat each area's boss.

The Art & Design Of Silt

Silt Tree
Dead trees within the ocean?  Are you barking mad?

As the collection of aquatic minions expands with more puzzles, so too do the diverse locales. The gross, fleshy origin of this tale eventually expands to strange industrial avenues and dense bioluminescent coral reefs that house some of your deadliest foes. Although several "LIMBO clones" have come and gone since the early 2010s, Silt's similar audio/visual design has more staying power from its subtler nuances. The monochromatic kaleidoscope after defeating a boss is a great reason to keep going; similarly, Nick Dymond's commendable soundtrack and the unsettling audio queues of a large crustacean killing this unemotional diver leave a distinct aftertaste.

 
 

It's a shame that these puzzles never match the sights and sounds, however. After those early experiments, I mentioned have been tested, you're less puzzle-solving and more matching fish to their respective tasks over and over. There are also (currently) a few soft-locks throughout the game; misplacing a fish critical to advancing by a misclick or hitting a detrimental bug could force you to restart that segment.

Difficulty hits rough waters in the second half when dexterous moves become more important than abstract thinking. Fast-paced scenarios are exacerbated when your possessed manta ray has to precisely navigate a hazard zone but won't teleport because of a goddamn speck intersecting with its endpoint. The finicky controls have trouble keeping up with the level design's demands.

Silt Monster
Props on keeping so many teeth sparkly clean!

There's also a difficulty in caring for Silt's near-nonexistent narrative. There's no supplementary text nor dialogue to absorb while swimming around. It leaves your personal interpretation of events up to what you glean from ambiguous environmental clues. The grand, ornate animal statues scattered across the world and within this metallic leviathan are just opaque questions without any tangible answers. It's less of a story and more of a... convenient series of events that plops out a random conclusion.

I'm well-acquainted with artsy, open-ended narratives too. That's not inherently an issue on its own. It's when those stories lean too much on evocative imagery and tantalizing questions in lieu of an actual point when it gets annoying. That's the issue in a nutshell: there's a cluster of lovely baubles to hook you in, but it feels absent of deeper meaning. Any interesting considerations, such as this crazy possession ability or acquiring light sources to power this enigmatic machine, ultimately feel like they're answered with shallow appeals of its decorative splendor.

 
 

Silt Review | Final Thoughts

Silt Background
H. R. Giger's Life Aquatic

Assessing value for indie titles primarily focused on artistic impulses tends to have a specific focus towards the experience itself, versus a dollar-per-hour threshold. In Silt's case, it's an interesting mesh of both considerations. It's not about a simple, non-completionist playthrough only netting 2.5 hours for $15; rather, it's that sense of not allowing this mechanic to really stretch its legs. I kept wondering how each of the four areas could've been improved with a couple more brainteasers. It’s practically pleading to be a grander adventure.

That taps into my disappointment with Silt: the design limitations fettering the promises of this cavernous & uncompromising world. Spiral Circus' wonderful art style and its more inspired moments still stay with me, but so does that yearning for more than what's offered.


TechRaptor reviewed Silt on Xbox Series X with a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.

Review Summary

Review Summary

6.5
Spiral Circus' first game makes a great splash with its atmosphere and art style, but design and story limitations anchor its true potential.

Pros

  • Beautiful Art
  • Good Audio Design & Soundtrack
  • Neat Gameplay Concept With A Few Decent Puzzles

Cons

  • Most Puzzles Are Understimulating
  • Lackluster Design Focus In Second Half
  • Extremely Limited Story