There’s no doubt that Playdead have a lot to answer for. After debuting with the simple yet highly effective Limbo, Playdead took the same formula and applied it to Inside. From there, all manner of development team have tried the same, yet none have really ever managed to deliver the same immersive feels.
Swimming into view are Spiral Circus Games and Fireshine Games with their surreal underwater puzzle adventure, Silt. Obviously inspired by the monochrome styles of the genre forebears, Silt is a joy to play through. It doesn’t quite hit the highs that it could, and there are a few little technical issues holding it back, but should you be looking for a visual-led, hugely atmospheric game, you’ll not go wrong here.
Placing you into the tight wetsuit of a lone diver, it’s your job to traverse the underwater lands of Silt. Told with no narrative, exploration is key to this experience, as you attempt to understand why you are in the situations you find yourself – and how exactly you’ll get out of them.
The puzzling waters are dangerous ones, and thankfully your diver is as nimble as can be. They swim graciously through the oceans, darting this way and that as you see fit, squeezing themselves through narrow pathways and tunnels, whilst also happily exploring the mysteries of the open oceans – just the glow of a single headtorch lighting the way.
Moving from one screen to the next, with just a second or two of loading in between, is your objective, as you take in the vibrantly rich world around you. Fish shoal up and split as you hit them, eels wind their way through crevices and rays float this way and that, all happily allowing you to move through their home.
These creatures are the key to the progress you’ll find in Silt, as thanks to the magical soul power of your diver you can integrate yourself with the other species. Fish can be taken under your control, as you utilise their nippy teeth or small size to help open up pathways. Electric eels power up strange underwater machinery and rays can be used to magically teleport from one area to another. There are even crabs for you to embed your soul in, scuttling around in their toughened shells. Basically, if you happen upon these underwater creatures, you can control them.
Going into too much detail in regards the creatures and fish you stumble upon would be doing a disservice to the hidden narrative kicking around in Silt and especially the solutions to some of the puzzles you’ll need to complete. But just be sure that you’ll need to utilise each and every species you find, as you attempt to navigate the world under the waves, staying safe from predators.
You’ll also need them to help in a variety of well created boss battles, each designed with puzzling moments at the fore. You can be sure that only once you scour the surroundings and understand what is needed of you will progress be made. Testing different strategies and outcomes is very much the key to Silt (particularly in those boss fights), but as each screen is a relatively quick affair to work through, going wrong and having to checkpoint is never an ask. In fact, Fireshine and Spiral Circus should be applauded for making Silt so accessible.
This is not just some standard underwater romp though and a whole ton of mystery and utter downright weirdness pops up at frequent intervals. It’s this which will be key to you understanding what exactly is going on under these waves and in the darkest depths of the ocean.
Silt is delivered in a minimal style, especially in terms of the puzzles and the audio that it brings. In fact, sound effects and backing tunes are extremely limited in use, only really ever cropping up when needed. Silt is a success in that regard.
It’s also a massive success in terms of the visual take. This is a stunner to look at, with every element well detailed, drawing you in. We’d go as far to say that there have been moments when we have stop to sit and gaze at the elaborate underwater scenes we’ve found our diver trying to move through, taken aback by the sheer amount of love and precision that has gone into how Silt looks. It may seem to run a simple path, but the intricate nature of the visuals is a proper standout.
Not all is perfect though and Silt can occasionally bring disappointment – perhaps amplified by the brilliance of the rest of it. For instance, the camera which is attached to the right stick, allowing you to view the situations around you, is extremely janky and far from smooth. There are also moments when your diver fits, flicking their entire body is strange motions or swimming upside down for longer than they should. The whole soul commanding process also feels a tad finicky to use, as you reach out and bang into obstacles time and time again.
Thankfully things settle down fairly quickly but when you consider how the rest of Silt feels utterly smooth, these problems are certainly highlighted. You could also argue that diver and foe visuals overlap a little too much, something which is a bit weird to witness – take one of the early bosses for instance and we still can’t get over the fact that a huge eel will let us swim into its mouth without hassle.
On the whole though Silt is a stunner. It’s not quite able to deliver the same type of immersion that was honed by the Playdead team and their adventure telling, but it really isn’t too far off. This is an underwater playground that is full of mystery and aside from a few little technical issues, is one that fans of visual-led stories should lap up.
Silt is available to download from the Xbox Store