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Silt Review

Long before this Silt review, I have been an enjoyer of atmospheric 2D puzzle-driven adventure games. The best known examples of games like these are the Oddworld games and The Heart of Darkness on PlayStation. Classics like Flashback: The Quest for Identity and Another World inspired devs all over and even Blizzard used to have their hat in the ring with Blackthorne and the Lost Viking games.

Since the 2010s, indie developers sought to put their mark in the subgenre. From Playdead’s exceptional Limbo and INSIDE, to lesser examples like Albert & Otto; the indie game scene has no shortage of these moody 2D games. No matter what, a gamer can always count on there to be a tricky adventure with some rich ambiance to set the tone.

What could Silt bring to the table? On the surface, it promises another surreal 2D puzzling adventure. Maybe there is more to this nightmarish, underwater odyssey. Find out in this Silt review for the Xbox Series S.

Silt
Developer: Spiral Circus Games
Publisher: Fireshine Games
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: June 1, 2022
Players: 1
Price: $19.99 USD 

“Silt”, is what is commonly referred to the muck that settles at the bottom of a body of water. This could not be more fitting title for the visual style the artists painstakingly aimed for. Silt‘s presentation makes a powerful and striking statement from beginning to end and it does it without any words and no text outside of a few button prompts.

Silt‘s art direction is a sight to behold. It can be best described as German expressionist meets nightmarish industrial-nautical. There is a big emphasis on gritty line-art and spattering inky textures on much of the organic elements. Crabs are covered in fine spines and pointy ends that would prick a finger with the lightest graze. Soft tissue on larger sea creatures have palpable wrinkles and everything looks sickly.

The mechanical structures and cult-like imagery that appear as Silt‘s scenario unfurls all look dingy and filthy. Every metallic object looks haggard and rusted; like some kind of ancient relic that is as old as God. There are some visuals that are meticulously drawn and designed that will inspire awe and disgust at the time; making the player’s skin crawl and writhe.

The impressive and distinctive art is supported by the cavernous ambient sound of the crushing weight of the ocean. Silt present’s a cold and harsh world and the game sounds the way it looks. There is not much music at all, instead focusing entirely on dietetic sound design.

The only sounds the players will hear are the muffled bone crunching of the protagonist getting devoured beneath the millions of tons of water. The attention put into making everything sound like its weight is pushing against the pressure goes a long way into Silt’s oppressive abyssal atmosphere. At times it feels appropriately claustrophobic.

Details like the player-diver’s rebreather releasing a stream of bubbles and the deep, guttural bubbling that comes with it, is especially effective. The effect of all the sound design working together is what truly sells Silt‘s world and immerses the player into the setting; inviting gamers to dive deeper into the mysteries and see what happens next.

Silt‘s gameplay is not just a one long underwater swimming level: it also leans in on a possession mechanic where the diver can leave his body to control smaller sea creatures. Figuring out which sea creature to use to bypass some obstacles.

Possessing an organism comes with its own movement mechanics and sometimes a unique ability. Stingrays can teleport past some objects, angler fish can chew cables and crabs have hard shells that can jam up mechanisms. There are other fish out in the sea and even a small and seemingly useless minnow has its greater purpose.

There is nothing wasted in Silt. The puzzles are very tightly designed and sometimes players are given several to tackle at a given time and can choose which they can approach. The only drawback to the focused scenario is that replay value is low once you know the solutions and then it feel like going through the motions on subsequent replays.

This could have easily fallen into a game of trial-and-error, but Silt does an admirable job at teaching the purpose of each creature. There is never any question of what the player must do next since the puzzle design is restrained enough to not overwhelm with possibilities.

The balance of clever puzzle design that does not demand a leap of logic is a very tough position for any game designer. Silt‘s developers were able to keep the challenge in check and still deliver some satisfying “Ah hah!”, moments that can make some gamers take a moment to experiment with the tools given to them.

Silt is set underwater and that may turn off some players. The setting and pacing demands slow gameplay to make the premise believable. Anyone who can accept and play by Silt‘s rules will be in for a more enjoyable experience.

As polished as Silt‘s art can be, there are still some graphical bugs that may occur. Dying while using the head lamp may cause the lighting effect to detach from the diver’s model; leaving a floating cone of light wafting in the deep sea. This is something that always happened since dying is common in these kinds of moody games.

The player character also does no have the most convincing death animations when he dies. A cheap looking rag-doll effect is applied to the 2D rig when a fail state is activated and more often than naught, the character ends up looking like he shuts down instead of dying some agonizing death. This is especially disappointing when swimming into a large spinning fan.

Silt is a very solid 2D adventure game. It is elevated by its powerful verisimilitude in its art and gripping sound design. Fans of surreal adventures with a vague story that is open to interpretation and 2D puzzling gameplay should check this one out.

Silt was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Fireshine Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Silt is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.

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The Verdict: 7

The Good

  • Creative and stylish visual design
  • Surreal and haunting ambiance
  • Possession mechanic is used to its fullest extent
  • Little to no hand-holding makes for a very immersive scenario
  • Stupefying alien puzzles with logical solutions

The Bad

  • Very little replay value for its price
  • Minor graphical bugs that distract
  • Languid pace and vague narrative may put off some gamers

About

A youth destined for damnation.