South of the Circle was originally released in 2020 on a variety of mobile devices, before finally arriving on Steam and PC this August. Described as an emotional narrative experience, South of the Circle puts you in the mind of Peter, a Cambridge professor during the height of the Cold War.
The story begins as Peter and his hired pilot have to make an emergency landing in Antarctica, just outside their intended destination, a British research station. Acting as Peter, you’ll have to navigate through the adventure that ensues, as he tries to save his injured pilot and find a way off the frozen continent. Throughout this, Peter will show you memories that led him to this place, including his romance with Clara, a fellow professor, and the challenges that the Cold War brought.
All Narration, All the Time
You control Peter by making simple choices that vary from assertive, unsure, supportive, and similar emotions. These choices do not so much influence the outcome, but rather help shape the story. Throughout the narration, it does feel like the story is quite set on rails, always pushing forward, and I’ve found it more helpful to think of South of the Circle as a movie where my impact on its outcome was limited. What really pushes the player forward is trying to solve the mystery of what’s happening in Antarctica, as well as back home in Cambridge.
Peter’s mind jumps around South of the Circle’s timeline quite frequently. As the player, you slowly begin to glean more insight into Peter’s state of mind and what led him to his current situation. At first, this method seemed disconnected, and it took me some time to get into the flow of the narrative experience. Once I got hooked, however, I was intrigued and became invested in Peter’s memories, both intellectually and emotionally.
Peter’s relationship with Clara, clearly his love interest, and the best thing to have happened to him, is in stark conflict with his struggles to satisfy his professor’s expectations during the difficult Cold War period. Having to walk the tight rope between being supportive of his friends and not wanting to appear to support Communists, leads Peter to some interesting decisions.
Towards the end of the roughly six-hour narrative experience, South of the Circle begins to pull many of its threads together. As it becomes clear what’s going on in Antarctica and how Peter’s involvement there is not as it first seemed, both to the player and Peter himself, the revelation of how little impact we’ve had on the story hits hard.
Art to get Lost in
Visually, South of the Circle features beautifully drawn scenes, ranging from serene countrysides to terrifying snow storms. During the player’s journey through Peter’s memories, players get to experience all manner of regions, all of which are wallpaper-worthy. Alongside the beautiful graphics is excellent voice-acting. This leads to highlight the narrative experience and the player’s role as both facilitator and spectator. I often left the game open on the menu screen just to enjoy the soundtrack, as well.
The controls in South of the Circle are clearly a left-over from its mobile roots, as all activities and movement boil down to simple “tap here” and “hold this to do the thing” actions. Overall, this led to an increased focus on the story as opposed to having to deal with how to manage Peter’s actions. I did, however, get tired of holding down a mouse button several times. Perhaps I would have been better off using a controller…
Not the Expected Ending, and that’s a Good Thing
As South of the Circle draws to a close, it becomes clear that memories are a fickle thing. Without going into spoilers, the ending left me wondering, thinking about what choices I made and how they did or did not impact the narrative. It was a refreshing ending, and a well-crafted one, albeit slightly frustrating. Like many great narrative work of arts, however, it also left me with an experience worth remembering.
South of the Circle is available on PC via Steam on August 3, 2022.