Review – Silt
You know how there are certain games that you just know you have to play about ten seconds into its trailer? That’s how I felt about Silt from Spiral Circus Games when I first saw it. I’m a sucker for any game that can provide an immersive experience in a creepy or tense atmosphere, which is exactly what Silt promised. Now I just had to find out whether or not Silt would make good on its promise or if it would sink into mediocrity.
You only need to look at Silt briefly in order to see where it takes its inspiration from. Silt is clearly inspired by the games LIMBO and Inside. In fact, it favors them so much that I actually thought at first that this was another game from indie developer, Playdead, creators of LIMBO and Inside. As it turns out, Silt is the debut game for the UK based developer, Spiral Circus Games. Thankfully, Silt is just as great as the games it was after.
Following the same trend as LIMBO and Inside, Silt doesn’t provide you much in terms of a story. Instead, it plops you right into the middle of the strange environment and lets you figure things out by exploring. Honestly, I love when games can do this successfully. It creates a level of immersion that is nearly unmatched by more narrative-heavy games. And Silt is no exception. You play as a deep sea diver exploring ruins within the watery abyss. Not much more explanation is necessary, as the fun of the game is exploring the oceanic depths.
In addition to the ancient mysteries of a civilization long since past, Silt is full of various aquatic life. This is where Silt‘s main gameplay mechanic comes into play: possession. The diver has the ability to send a luminescent thread of their soul out through their body to possess most of the sea creatures in the area. Naturally, there are some things that the diver will be unable to possess, making for obstacles to get past. It wouldn’t be fun if you could possess absolutely everything around you, after all.
Possession is the main focus of the gameplay in Silt, and it’s done extremely effectively. Each sea creature has its own specific function that it can perform while under your control. For example, there are small pirana-like fish that you can use to chew through vines blocking your path. There are other fish with hard heads that you can use to knock down weakened rocks to open up other avenues to explore. You can even posses schools of tiny fish and use them as bait for carnivorous aquatic plants to eat instead of you. Being able to possess the sea life around you makes for truly inventive puzzles.
The controls handle very well, for the most part. Swimming feels responsive and appropriately floaty. The only instances in which I became frustrated where during a couple chase sections. In these portions all of the diver’s movements have to be executed with perfect timing, which is quite aggravating in certain areas. Expect to die several times during those sections. The rest of the game is almost casually-easy though, not that I mind. For me, the game as whole was more about the experience of uncovering more of the bizarre underwater world than brain-stumping challenges.
The main reason I was so taken by Silt‘s ocean abyss was due to its art design. Silt‘s art direction was done by the incredibly talented Mr Mead, whose eerie and haunting sketches created a twisted aquatic world. They aren’t necessarily disturbing, more unsettling. Coming face to face with the Goliaths of the deep makes you ponder just what might be lurking below the farthest depths of the ocean.
The sound design is incredibly minimalistic. However, this is an intentional choice, since there wouldn’t be much to hear deep underwater. Aside from not having any dialogue, there’s also hardly any music. The musical score that is present is very subtle, only occasionally swelling whenever accompanying the reveal of something particularly grandiose. There is a clever divide between near silence with only mild ambient aquatic noises, and the epicness of encountering a Goliath. The sound design sets the stage perfectly for the feelings of unease, horror, and majesty found throughout the journey. Silt ventures seamlessly into feelings of tension and awe in equal measure.
Silt is one of those rare few games that I will highly recommend to everyone. There’s just enough story to have your actions make sense and have purpose, while still being open to interpretation. The lifeforms within the seascape are well varied and creepy. The possession gameplay mechanic is refreshingly different and well-utilized. Silt ventures seamlessly into feelings of tension and awe in equal measure. It’s a relatively short experience, but it’s a gem of a game that sticks with you long after you’ve finished playing.
The hand-drawn aesthetic provides a delightfully dark and unsettling feel to the underwater world around you.
The controls are very smooth and responsive, aside from a couple frustrating sections that rely on perfect timing. The ability of possessing the aquatic life around you makes for some really inventive puzzles.
There isn’t all that much to the sound design, but that’s intentional. The subtle musical score and ambient sounds build a more tense atmosphere.
Fun Factor: 10
Silt is a fairly short experience, but it was one that I couldn’t put down. The creative gameplay mechanics and mysteries of the underwater abyss kept me enthralled the whole way through.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Silt is available now on PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Silt was provided by the publisher.