Just like “Life is Strange” and “Where the Heart Leads”, “South of the Circle” is a narrative experience based on dialogue and moral choice. With each new chapter, the story becomes more unpredictable and exciting; however, the final moments of the game are messed up in a way that feels confusing but emotionally resonant, resulting in a messy and compelling experience.
South of the Circle puts players in the place of Peter, a professor and climatologist at Cambridge University studying clouds and radiation at the height of the Cold War. The game, without wasting time, creates an emotional roller coaster, which will begin with the fact that Peter and a pilot named Floyd wake up after a plane crash. In a scenario similar to the “Long Darkness”, two crashed in the middle of the tundra in Antarctica, and because of Floyd’s broken leg, Peter must go alone to seek help.
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Fortunately, the British Deception Point Research Station is within walking distance of the crash site. When Peter limps across the tundra, he smoothly transitions to Peter walking to the train station somewhere in the past. On the train to Cambridge, Peter stops to help a woman named Clara put a box of books on the top shelf of the carriage. Here, players get their first real experience of interacting with the South of the Circle decision-making system when they have a nervous and flirtatious conversation. Clara is another professor, and, as expected, this moment marks the beginning of their relationship.
Even though this is a decision-based game, the system that South of the Circle uses can make it difficult to make the best possible decisions. Instead of using traditional methods that clearly show the full answer or the emotional value of the answer, symbols are used south of the circle that are introduced in a confusing way. At the initial moments on the plane, the symbols are accompanied by words and emotions, which, looking back, are used to explain what the symbols mean, so words are no longer needed. Although this is a good idea, it is not formulated clearly, so the association does not arise immediately from the players, who are likely to be more focused on the words than on the symbol itself. However, players notice them throughout the game and will most likely choose two or three of them.
In the course of the plot, players get acquainted with many different characters, well-written and brought to life with the help of phenomenal voice acting. Because of its time period, the story must address such complex topics as sexism, trauma, abuse of power, as well as discrimination and paranoia caused by the red panic. Fortunately, “South of the Circle” copes with these problems perfectly and allows the player to turn Peter into a supportive and open person who values others as much as his work. It is this strength in the narrative of the game that leads to the biggest weakness of the ending.
Without going into small details, the final scene of the game is filled with tension and emotion, as Peter recalls the last moments of the past that led to his journey to Antarctica. In it, the game reflected the key decisions made along the way, and instead of respecting them, seemed to ignore the work done by the players, in a way that made it seem like some of the choices didn’t really matter. Perhaps it was meant to be a twist of the narrative about how Peter remembers the past compared to how it was, but it’s completely unclear if that’s the case, which makes it even more confusing when it happens. Despite this, the ending of South of the Circle is still filled with emotional catharsis, and the ambiguous ending makes the player want more, and this alone makes this game a must for narrative-oriented players.