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Fortunately for you, I will not be beginning this review with some spiel about how we know more about outer space than we know about the oceans. Because that is boring. This factoid is often met with a quick "yeah" and several sententious nods before someone changes the subject to a documentary they've been watching lately.
The ocean is teeming with terrible things. That's true. There's an animal whose body is almost transparent, with 24 eyes and tentacles that extend three metres, releasing venom that causes cardiac arrest mere minutes after a sting. Strangely, it seems to fear the colour red. A fascinatingly frightening creation arising from over half a billion years of evolution. Silt, an unsettling game set under the sea from developer Spiral Circus, pinpoints that abject curiosity that we all possess about the abyss.
Enough from me for a moment. Check out this trailer for Silt here!
At the start of the game, a melancholic poem steers our waifish diver on their journey through the sea, telling us there are behemoths lying on the floor, lolling with power that isn't theirs. Etched in scratchy lines of pen, ink and pencil from artist Tom Mead, the shades of grey in this watery world countering the eerie blackness and wintry white lights suggests a sense that the diver is singular and small, that the world is unquantifiably large.
It isn't empty, though. The diver is able to possess the marine animals in the water to solve puzzles using their unique abilities. The scissorfish can snip through cords, the crab is strong enough to shatter metal, the ray can phase through solid objects, and there's some sort of amoeba or urchin that detonates like a mine. The diver lies inert as you swim and scuttle through the levels, opening channels, pulling switches, and outsmarting those aforementioned behemoths to extract their eyes.
Bit nasty. But the whole thing is. Every animal is a means to an end, I realised, as I poisoned a shoal of tiny fish and fed them to odd yet lethal venus fly trap-like plants that prevented me from progressing further. They choked and wilted and I didn't care. Nature is cruel, I thought, dropping a crab into the blades of a fan. There were two smaller crabs where I had found the one I fed into the machine.
Without giving too much away, Silt is very much about the relationship between predator and prey. Somewhat conscious of the surging body count I was accumulating over the course of the game, I didn’t feel fantastic that these creatures were sacrificed in the name of progress, but my diver had been through the mill too. Worms with razor sharp mandibles shot out of the crevasses in the rock at the speed of an F1 car, pulling the severed corpse into its shelter and finishing the job with a crunch. The sounds of Silt are so unpleasant, be they crisp crackles of bone in a mish-mash of teeth, or the unidentifiable murmurs that might be from a living creature or might be the currents of the ocean coursing through caves. It's tough to tell and I'm not too keen on finding out.
It is slightly frustrating then that the intriguing puzzles that form the beginning and middle of the game slide to the side for sections where you need to be quicker than the thing that's chasing you. In doing so, I understand that this twists the overreliance that the diver has had on their abilities to outsmart and survive the threats under the sea. Additionally, if you're racing the creature gliding behind you, you must be pretty precise with your timings, which isn't achievable with the controls that reflect the sensation of swimming. As such, it just isn't implemented very deftly, which is funny when the rest of the game ties together up until this point.
The standout parts of Silt therefore are its artistic and sound design, creating that sense of unknowable and unsettling scale, a world that is home to weird little things and beings with too many teeth than is advisable. Respectably, the game clocks in at about six hours long, though I languished in some levels because the pieces of the puzzle of why the diver was down here were irresistible. I’ve got a theory, and what you’ll find down in the deep must be seen to be believed.
Pros: Claustrophobic and unsettling sound design, curious creatures, the ending (no spoilers)
Cons: Loses its way towards the end, some of the puzzle solutions didn't make sense with the themes of the game, occasional visual glitches
For fans of: Little Nightmares, Hollow Knight, Limbo
Silt is out now on PlayStation, Xbox (reviewed on Xbox Series S), Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam. Review code was provided by PR. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
Featured Image Credit: Fireshine Games
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