Anyone suffering from thalassophobia might find this one triggering but, if you can stomach it, ‘Silt’ is an adventure puzzler with an unsettling, but riveting horror theme.
It immediately plunges the player into the murky ocean depths, and immerses them with its stylistic visuals and mesmerising sound design. Straight off the bat, this game intrigues you as you take control of a diver shackled to the ocean floor for some unknown reason. You discover that you are able to possess sea creatures, inhabiting their bodies to solve puzzles, defeat leviathans, and progress deeper into the void.
The mystery of why you are here, and how you came to have this ability is present through the whole game. The lore of ‘Silt’ is never outright explained, but leaves players enough details within the environments and the game progression that one can imagine the history of the world they explore. Some of the backgrounds in the game make you wonder what kind of civilization came before, and what happened to leave in this state of decay?
Monochromatic black and white is used in the dark, eerie artwork of Mr Mead, one of the co-founders of developer Spiral Circus. The design of the world blends organic and mechanical features to create a steampunk style of setting. Lighting is used sparingly, and the darkness can become enveloping.
The sound design is the cherry on top, perfectly complimenting the game’s visual prowess. Everything is heard from the inside of a thick helmet, muted and muffled. Mechanical breathing from an oxygen tank is your only constant companion, and sometimes the only thing to break frequent, isolating silences.
When you do hear instances of incidental music, it breaks you from your trance and calls you to action with a jolt. Hearing an ominous swell and seeing something move in a shadowy corner will send shivers down your spine.
Each stage of ‘Silt’ has its own set of puzzles to overcome to make it to the area’s Leviathan. The player will need to employ a combination of the possession mechanic, good timing, and some strategy in order to make it through. And mind you don’t leave your diver’s body in a vulnerable position while you’re off gallivanting as a hammerhead shark.
While nothing in ‘Silt’ is controller shattering-ly difficult, the challenges will take numerous attempts to figure out and complete. It’s satisfying when you get past an area that gave you trouble, and the puzzles never feel unfair.
For all of the game’s merits, ‘Silt’ is not without fault. When possessing a creature, holding down the possess button allows you to start possessing another being. Tapping the button returns you to your body. The amount of times the game got confused between a long and a short press was incredibly frustrating. Puzzles with long sequences would have to be restarted, as control went back to the diver at the beginning rather than to a new host.
The control over which creature you possess was also imprecise, taking many attempts to get the desired result. Non skippable scenes would tarnish sections that required a lot of trial and error, and make replaying sections a drag.
Occasionally, scripted enemies would trigger unprompted, and proceed to glitch through walls to instantly kill the player for seemingly no reason.
There were also a couple of performance issues on some of the wide shots where the frame rate would drop quite a bit, but it wasn’t enough of an issue to be immersion-breaking.
Even with these few flaws, ‘Silt’ is a game that deserves to be experienced. It's a short game that can be beaten in around 6-8 hours, and the mood and atmosphere that it creates should be felt firsthand.
It's inevitable that this game will draw comparisons to titles like ‘Limbo’ and ‘Inside’, and there are a lot of similarities in both the genre and tone. But ‘Silt’ manages to be distinctive, and indie developer Spiral Circus have made their debut game one to remember.