Seeing is believing in Viewfinder, a first person puzzle game that allows you to bend and twist your reality by placing photographs and images that you can walk into. It sounds bizarre and, conceptually, it is. But it’s also rather beautiful and clever – even if some of its puzzles don’t quite land as well as some of the others.
Playing as an unknown protagonist, you’re dropped into a curious, colourful world. It resembles our own world, but something doesn’t feel quite.. right. By interacting with a terminal, you can enter a new level: the typical goal of each level is to either reach the terminal, or power it. Maybe the terminal only exists in a photograph you’ve picked up from a table. Picking up the photograph allows you to place it in the world, and walk into it. It’s not just photos, either: some levels will have you placing children’s drawings and oil paintings that you can wander into. The effect is beautiful.
There is a story to Viewfinder, but in our opinion it’s the weakest part of the game. Earlier levels are accompanied by a woman’s voice which you’ll likely find irritating. She’s, thankfully, largely replaced by a strange cat later on, who’s slightly more palatable. Perhaps simply because of the fact he’s a cat, and you can pet him (hooray!). The narrative crescendo towards the end of the game didn’t have the impact it seemed to want to have, and we were simply left shrugging our shoulders as to what was happening. Still, it doesn’t ruin the enjoyment of the puzzles which, let’s face it, is the most important part here.
As you progress through Viewfinder, new puzzle mechanics will be presented to you. Moving on from simply placing photographs you’ve picked up, you’ll eventually gain access to an instant camera, allowing you to take your own photos to solve puzzles with. Perhaps you’ll need to somehow construct a bridge, or make the terminal appear the right way around to allow you to get to it. Other levels play with colour filters, photos split into multiple shapes that need to be correctly aligned to appear whole again, switches that need powering with sound, and more.
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While some of Viewfinder’s levels have truly clever solutions, others are less so. We’ve felt we’ve simply “cheesed” our way through several levels, placing photographs in such a way that breaks the environment, leaving a gap in a wall that allows us to pass through, for example. It feels cheap, and yet there’s a number of levels that suggest this is the way it wants you to act. It’s not a satisfying solution, even if it does allow you to reach the same end goal.
That said, if you do get stuck, Viewfinder thankfully has a built-in hint system. Hints aren’t always available from the get-go: you’ll need to spend a bit of time yourself trying to figure things out. But if the solution doesn’t come to you, you’ll find a hint available in the game’s main menu. We only had to use it once, but it’s good to know it’s there.
Despite the odd duff puzzle, though, we very much enjoyed our time solving Viewfinder’s visual riddles. The best levels left us voicing a satisfying “a-ha!” as we figured out the solution, and even the not-so-satisfying ones were enjoyable thanks to the game’s wonderful visuals and quirky reality bending. That said, the very last puzzle of the game – forcing a timer onto us for the first time – left a bit of a sour taste in our mouths.
From being able to go at your own steady pace, you’re suddenly forced to complete eight puzzles in five minutes. Most annoyingly, it feels as if Viewfinder expects you to fail several times, needing to try again to memorise what to do and to find shortcuts as you do it. One of the later puzzles, for example, requires you to activate a switch with sound. You could figure it out, sure, or you could have had the foresight to take a photo of a boombox randomly placed in an earlier part of the puzzle. Sure, completing the timed challenge feels like an accomplishment, but it’s not in keeping with the steady pace of the rest of the game.
If you’re a fan of first-person puzzle games, Viewfinder should be considered essential. Sure, its story leaves something to be desired, and some of its puzzles don’t quite hit the mark. But even the worst of the bunch keep you engaged enough to see this clever little puzzle game through to the end. Never outstaying its welcome, Viewfinder has left a lasting impression on us.