It’s in the midst of the Cold War and tensions are high in South Of The Circle. You are Peter, a university lecturer who has been working on a climate paper for some years, just waiting for your moment to shine. Then as fate would have it, one day you meet Clara on a train ride back to Cambridge where she also lectures. Small world. Your relationship buds and blooms amidst political unrest both for the Cold War and female academics, where Clara is also hoping to have her big break working on a paper. You team up on your climate paper and after going away to Clara’s quiet Scottish cottage to monitor said climate and compare it to South America, you both uncover that the further south on the globe you are, the higher radiation levels are. You draft your paper and your professor is impressed but heeds warning over you citing Clara as a co-author saying it may jeopardise your potential for a well-deserved promotion. He sets you up with a colleague in London who offers to fund further research, sending you to the most southerly point to capture radiation readings, suspecting the Soviets may be behind it – in Antarctica… This review contains spoilers for South Of The Circle. 

The goal of South Of The Circle is to find help for your pilot colleague Floyd who has injured his leg after the plane crashes into the snowy rifts of Antarctica. As the story unfolds, your job is then to find a way to flee the continent. During the course of the story, Peter experiences flashbacks to the aforementioned events that lead to him going to Antarctica and then comes back to the peril of his current situation. The flashbacks primarily centre around his life with Clara and players will become engrossed in the story and their relationship, essentially from the get-go. But in the present, Antarctica is vacant, the bases are empty and no one can be found as you radio to your injured companion. The story unravels to reveal the Soviets may be planning something dangerous in the Antarctic – a bomb, hence the vacant continent. Upon arriving back defeated to the plane after spotting flares, Floyd reveals it was not he who shot the flares. Peter discovers another man outside and hastily approaches, armed for conflict. The man is a Russian engineer who was left behind and believes he can help fix the plane. He also reveals that a pulsing sound the duo has heard throughout the duration of the game, is actually a bomb countdown and they need to get out. Now. Peter, weak and dishevelled from facing the icy elements, recalls fuel drums at the British base which he then fetches. But we’ll get onto the ending later.

The characters are one of the highlights of South Of The Circle. Firstly, the voice cast is impressive, featuring Gwilym Lee (Bohemian Rhapsody) as Peter, Olivia Vinall (The Woman in White) as Clara, Richard Goulding (The Windsors) as Floyd, Adrian Rawlins (Harry Potter) as Mikhail, and Anton Lesser (Game Of Thrones) as Professor Hargreaves. The quality of the voice acting is strong, with each actor conveying the emotions of the characters pristinely. I also loved the mix of accents in the game including British, Scottish, Australian and Russian, as it boosted the personality and background of the characters. Considering South Of The Circle has a short playtime, cutting in around three and a half hours, the characters are very well-developed and complex. This allows the player to connect to the characters and their struggles. For instance, Peter had a stern father and Clara lost her brother when she was 16. As the game unfolds, you get the impression that Peter cannot let go of the past due to his frequent flashbacks that make up a huge part of the narrative. This further adds depth to his character.

South Of The Circle Car Scene
The animations and design are unique and crisp.

Next, the visuals and atmosphere are possibly the most standout part of South Of The Circle. The animation design is in short beautiful, unique and crisp as it is simple but somehow at the same time, detailed. The original look sets South Of The Circle apart from other games and instantly piques your interest. The design also works well in action, such as in the train scene where the train carriage is entirely black space around Peter and Clara’s compartment which makes the whole setting feel more intimate and is very effective. It just goes to show that games don’t always need to be richly and finitely detailed to tell a good story. In terms of detailing, the use of shadows and highlights are excellently utilised to add some dimension to the style. The animation is for the most part seamless, especially the attention to detail with footprints and tracks in the snow as well as elemental effects and shadows when walking. Along the same lines, the transitions from the present to flashbacks and vice versa are mostly executed in a clever and attentive way. Another unique touch South Of The Circle brings is when reading notes which shows up in a Star Wars-esque text effect, adding an unexpected but cool flourish to the gameplay. The use of atmospheric and emotive music is fantastic for amplifying the scene such as the piano soundtrack in Antarctica which greatly elevates tensions and the sense of peril. The ever-present pulsing sound of the bomb countdown also delivers this effect whilst having a much more significant impact on the plot later on. On the flip side of danger, the oldies music in the cottage scene with Peter and Clara creates a romantic atmosphere.

As for the gameplay, South Of The Circle offers various emotional options in your responses including Caring, Panic, Enthusiastic, Forthright, and Negative when engaging in dialogue throughout the narrative. However, if you take too long to choose, the icons will shake and the option will be chosen for you. There are also more significant choices that are shown by picture icons. Even though the gameplay itself is simplistic, you become wrapped in the story and the characters which is the primary focus of the game. This can be beneficial as you can select different emotional and significant options for a different experience, making it very replayable especially given its short duration.

Onto the ending, at least in my playthrough of South Of The Circle, Clara’s name was removed from the paper even though I didn’t select that option, so it may be that this is always the outcome and the fight/breakup will always happen. This is a solemn turn in the narrative, but if it’s true it may raise the debate of whether some choices are out of our control or even that Peter is an unreliable narrator as these are shown through flashbacks where we are making the decisions, which may not have been what actually transpired. The ending was emotional but was left a bit unclear on whether Clara and Peter just had a fight or whether it was over for good, especially when the last scene shows the mountain sequence again, which could also be taken as Peter relieving his favourite memory. Likewise, when Peter and his companions escaped Antarctica, it looks like they were flying toward the explosion as opposed to away from it, so that begs the question of whether they even survived. The ending itself is a bit ambiguous which some people will like, but others will not.

South Of The Circle Mountain Scene
The relationship between Peter and Clara reels you in.

Onto some more negatives, that I, unfortunately, found with my playthrough. First, some of the visual issues I had. Some of the location and flashback transitions weren’t as seamless as others as they felt sudden or with a delayed cut. I also found that in the scene in Peter’s room, it was almost impossible to see the plane unless you saw the interaction prompt as you stood near it which could leave you missing out on an achievement. The last visual negative was that even though the simplistic design style worked,  I wish there was slightly more detail on the mountain walk as it looked like Clara and Peter were walking on air, the scene would have benefitted from more shadows so it wasn’t one flat colour.

In terms of gameplay, I found that the animation was a bit jittery when Peter was walking upstairs or on uphill terrain. There were some minor glitches with some animations such as arms going straight through objects they’re holding or elements not loading quite right. Finally, I found that some plot points felt a bit convenient but this wasn’t in any way excessive or outright ridiculous.

Overall, South Of The Circle is an enjoyable, emotional and beautifully designed narrative-focused game that features well-developed characters, an immersive story and a tense historical context.

South Of The Circle Snow
The snowy blizzards of Antarctica add to the peril.

Holly reviewed South of the Circle on PC with a review code. South of the Circle is also available to play on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch. 

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