Submachine 10, Jatsko review

I was going to write a review for Submachine 10.
But that’s impossible. With the newest release, it’s all or nothing. So I’ll focus on Submachine 10, but I guarantee you’ll hear about every other (main) game too in the following text.
It’s been ten years. I came across Submachine and really started following it right after Submachine 8 was released. So I haven’t been here from the beginning, but I’ve had more than enough time to become acquainted. Lost, even.
What makes Submachine special? What makes it different from other room escape games on the Internet? Why does it stand out?
The answer is simple; it’s all about the environment.
Take your basic room escape game. If you’re a game developer, you can make the puzzles as easy or as difficult as you want. You can control the number of items you put in the game.

A room escape game. But that’s it.
Submachine surpasses this. It offers more perspectives to please more than just the casual gamer. (And let’s be honest, you’re not a casual gamer if you tackle Submachine 10).
What does it offer? Submachine offers not just a game, but an environment. Turn the lights off and close the curtains in your room, put on your headphones, and you’ve instantly left Earth and ended up…below ground, it seems. The point is, you’re not sitting in your basement hunched over a computer screen. You’re IN Submachine. Submachine IS your world.
How does one accomplish this? How does one make a seemingly simple game concept (escape the room: Go!) turn into an elaborate journey?
Let’s see. First, let’s talk about what you see. In order to provide the opportunity for people to leave their reality and delve into their own thoughts, you have to produce art to which they can respond. Submachine IS art. Each screen, whether you look at detailed bricks and stone or gaze over a precipice into the Void, provides an individual painting. Add these together in a single game and you really understand what each location is about. Each location tells its own story. You can see the crumbling bricks in the Root and feel the first architects that designed it. It’s better than glazing over a rectangular wall clicking for pixels.
My point: Mateusz Skutnik provides the best eye-candy ever seen in a point n’ click. It looks good. It’s not a bunch of polygons thrown together in a beginner computer program. Skutnik successfully has built his own artstyle. It looks like reality, but you can still tell that it’s all Skutnik’s work. The amount of time spent into simply drawing each location, what with lighting, shading, and getting the colors and contrasts just right, pulls your eyes in immediately. If nothing else, his games are pretty. They’re almost real. You want to be there. It’s games like these where you want to BE IN THE GAME ITSELF that have attracted avid indie-gobblers for years (myself included). How would you want to stand under one of the beautiful arches in the Cardinal mosque? Wouldn’t you want to climb the twisting staircases of the Temple? What about crossing a bridge made of light?
So he has visuals down. But what about actual gameplay? We’ll come back to that. First we must attack the driving storyline that ties everything together.
Room escapes don’t really have much of a story. Sure, they have similarities if it’s a multiple-part series, but there’s not much of a story, usually. It’s nostly the genre name: escape the room. But Skutnik goes farther than that. It’s not satisfying to place the last item and say “yay I’m done.” *Proceeds to find more room escape games on the Internet*
Skutnik provides us with a story that has been keeping people guessing for years. Is the Submachine underground? Is it in space? Is it nowhere? What time is it? Room escape games don’t give you this thought process. Usually it’s the same. You’re in a room. Get out. You’re done! Sure it’s a mental exercise, but it’s not a workout. Skutnik makes us question things we shouldn’t be questioning. Yes, we’re in a room. But where is this room? WHEN is this room? Didn’t I see another version of this room before? Why isn’t gravity working here? What the hell is this karma stuff I keep seeing? How did I get here?
Basic questions, shot to bits. Casual room escape games close the doors on us. “You’re in a room with one door”. Submachine takes out the doors by the hinges, and then proceeds to smash the walls down too, then removes the ceiling and the floor. It leaves you exposed. “Make this portal work. Then take it to six or seven different places, and THEN you might find a way out.” Another example: A casual room escape game makes it easy to guess why you’re here. Why are you locked in the room? Maybe you partied too hard and your friends locked you in, somehow. Maybe you’re writing it off as a “social experiment”, and that’s why you woke up in an unfamiliar room. Anyway, you’re not interested in that as you are just wanting to get out. Submachine thinks differently. In the beginning it might look like you just dropped in for a nice arcade game; suddenly you’re finding out you were sent by a “higher-up” to do his dirty work. Oh, and evidently you worked with mysterious blue polygons before. Is the higher-up good? Bad? Dead? Who knows? Who is right? Who is wrong? Who is human, even?
Casual room escapes give you casual items. Here, have a screwdriver! (aka, look for screws). Your basic layman can solve this. Submachine is a bit more involved. Have a navigator! (wtf?) Figure it out! See you in Layer Eight! Here, have a location that stretches endlessly in all directions! Or one that loops back on itself! We’ll give you a compass, don’t worry ;) (depending on which cycle you’re in) It takes more than usual to wrap your head around what you are given. It’s not immediately apparent what a portal stabiliser or a power generator is used for. It’s not immediately obvious why you have a plasma ball, much less two or three. Submachine refuses to have games that you play when you’re just trying to distract yourself from your homework due tomorrow. Skutnik demands that his games offer more. There’s a story behind the staircases. There’s a myth between the rungs of the ladders. Figure it out. You, the Player, might be involved, here for a bigger reason.
All this for one goal: to stand out to people to crave a higher level of intelligence. These games require wit and real cognitive thinking, not just an eye for pixels on a screen. Submachine is smart, and therefore demands smart-ness from its players. Skutnik has successfully developed a series that makes players play it for the puzzles. NOT to get to the end, however satisfying that might feel. It’s the puzzles themselves, not the path to freedom. They don’t want to escape. After my first playthrough of Sub9 my most thought-upon question was: How is he going to top this? What is better than having me running around the same set of rooms in multiple realities? What is better than teleporting to different locations? What is better than trying to rebuild statues or restore relics of ancient civilizations? There’s always something new. Some new twist to the mechanic. Sure, it’s always items, but the items are always different. It’s not just looking behind a couch for a screwdriver.
So Skutnik has astounding visuals in Submachine, a story that craves answers to questions, and puzzles that want not so much to be solved as understood and marveled at. And he caters to a crowd by advertising more than moving your mouse around. He invites us to think, and we end up doing so. Sounds pretty mindless-less for a game, don’t you think? Everything is planned to offer a better gaming experience, for those who want it.
Also, might I mention the killer soundtrack composed by Thumpmonks in every game that EACH AND EVERY TIME fits its surroundings. I could go on and on about every track saved in my iTunes library that’s labeled “Artist: Thumpmonks” (around 100 tracks by this point), but I won’t. I can only say this: they’re needed just as much as anything else in these games if the player is to be properly immersed in their glory. A glory of broken realities, misunderstood scientists, and advanced technology. I’m listening to the Sub4 Lab ambient as I write this (which is probably adding to my overexcitement to be writing this and therefore is contributing to its possible incoherence of thoughts)
So all this writing and I haven’t really said anything about Submachine 10 explicitly (at least, I feel like it’s a lot of writing. I haven’t typed this much in a long time). The reason is that Submachine 10 is special: it embodies ALL the characteristics of Submachine displayed over the last ten years. Besides the obvious allusion to the inclusion of one location – at least – from each main game prior, The Exit is simply a culmination of all the concepts that have made Submachine special. Portals? Sure! Karma portals? Of course! Valves? Yes! Cryptic notes? Double yes! All the things that people have come to love about this series over the past decade are thrown in a large melting pot 473 screens large (from a source who has been scanning the Subnet for all eternity). Submachine 10 first and foremost is the perfect nostalgia trip, and its length and surprises around every corner make the trip more than a temporary high.
Some thoughts I had while playing:
“I can’t believe there are lab portals in this game!”
“There are karma portals too? No way!”
“Oh no, we did NOT just finally put something in that box in the wall of the Root.”
and possibly my favorite internal thought:

I know for me, anytime I hear a mention of Submachine, I flip out. It’s that kind of game. It doesn’t require the constant attention of mainstream media. That’s not in the formula for success. It’s not a game YouTubers play. It’s not a game discussed in multiple forums (just one!). It is discussed quite frequently, but the community is contained and comfortable, huddling around the red and blue candles in the Pyramid while major fandoms flow uncontained and rampant like red resin. The community is relatively small but it has proven to be one of the most concentrated and dedicated ones I have seen. I have had the pleasure of meeting about forty different people, maybe more, in the fan forum whose community actions have been the result of ten years of hard work from an indie developer. Art is produced. Stories are made. Jokes are made (both inside jokes and lame ones too). And of course, there’s always questions. Why does this thing exist? What purpose does this object serve? Each game gives a different personal experience for each player that we are able to share in a solid fanbase. Some people focus on the art. Some people want to figure out the grand purpose. Some people drop a note saying that they Submachine in their own reality. See an interesting-shaped arch or a complex control panel lately? That was Submachine’s work.
Submachine 10 brings all this together. It is made to serve its loyal players. Do you like solving puzzles? Sub10 is the ultimate test. Do you like marveling at new and interesting architecture? Gaze upon these ornate statues and twisting staircases. Did you like Submachine 3, or coordinates 245, 555, 690, or any other loops found in the Subverse? Let’s give you a few of those. You like fork? I give you fork. Also, have spoon. Do you want answers to the most confusing questions about Shiva, the Layers, and what happened to Mur and Liz? Yes you can, but you’re gonna have to work for it. If you are an avid fan, you simply cannot be let down by this game. It has everything you’ve wanted.
It’s a celebration, more than anything. A celebration both of the decade of development and of the path of the Player. It all ends here, and at the same time, it doesn’t. Besides that fact that more games are coming out, fans can re-experience the enjoyment and satisfaction that they have been experiencing since 2005. And Mateusz did it right. It’s apparent that he gave everything, left arm and all, to make this game the grand finale it deserves to be.
There’s not much more for me to say. I thought that I had more to talk about after playing the game that was, almost impossibly, three times as large as it’s prequel. Yet I’m still sitting here, trying to decode what exactly I played yesterday afternoon. I still have the headache. (A good one, don’t worry).
I feel like in a week I’ll have more to say regarding the nitty-gritty of the gameplay and all that. But it doesn’t really matter. Some people can call the game “too hard”, “too long”, or “too confusing” if they want. They can say that the puzzles were easy or difficult. They can obsess over all the possible uses for a “long stick”. In the end, it all gets wrapped up in a big package and sent with a bow on top. Inside the package is the way forward, but it’s only achieved by going backwards nine different times. It screws with you. But of course it’s what you wanted. It’s why you eagerly waited for the progress bar to inch forward. It’s why you had the internal struggle over whether or not you wanted to see teasers released. It’s why rabbits went extinct (!).
It’s a big present. Are you ready to open it up? Because it might open you up instead.

Author: Jatsko