South of the Circle is the story of Peter, a scientist at the University of Cambridge. Set in the early 1960s, the game heavily references the social and cultural movements of the time. There is a deep-rooted fear of Russian spies and multiple references to the Cold War, and also an underlying gender equality focus to the story explored via Peter’s research partner and romantic interest, Clara.
The game opens with Peter in a plane crash in Antarctica, and flips between the current scenario and the events that led to that moment, skipping back and forth through various points in Peter’s life. Playing through the game, and especially moments in the Antarctic where Peter is desperately trying to find salvation, it feels like you’re always on the brink of mysteries that never quite materialise.
South of the Circle is a linear game, and there is little exploration to be had. Peter can interact with certain items in each scene, but these appear to have no bearing on the story itself. Dialogue options are given through a series of symbols, which are explained at first but it’s down to the player to remember the correlation between the symbol and the demeanour in which Peter will react to conversation, however these seem to have no real impact.
Between the Cold War storyline and the focus on Peter’s studies, the story of South of the Circle is quite dry and serious, with little opportunity for relief. The game lasts a matter of hours – around four – so there’s not too much opportunity to get bogged down in all the intricacies of the plot, and in fact it does feel like it tries to do too much at times, often without any discernible relation to the core story. For example, how does the University professor’s reluctance to credit Clara on Peter’s paper intertwine with the survival storyline?
To be fair, the game is visually appealing, with a minimalistic art style that manages to convey the feeling of the time. It's an interesting experience and a unique premise (how many other Cold War disaster games are you going to play this year?), but ultimately that can't save the title from falling a bit flat.