When Viewfinder first crossed my radar during the 2022 Game Awards, I was intrigued to say the least. Immediately, I was reminded of the game The Witness by Thekla Inc., another first-person puzzle adventure game that had a deep, underlying narrative. Though the reveal trailer for Viewfinder didn’t hint at much of a story, we were given a new perspective for games to come in 2023. Recently, I was fortunate enough to be presented with a copy of Viewfinder to review (thank you, Sad Owl Studios), and what I experienced was nothing short of beautiful.
Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle adventure game where perspective means everything. The journey you embark on will take you on a wild ride that may even leave you with a tear in your eye at the end. Everything from the gameplay to the story is meant to put your mind to the test, both with problem solving and morality.
Gameplay in Viewfinder is simple. There are 5 hub worlds you will visit, each hub having a different theme and series of puzzle maps for you to complete, as well as some optional puzzles to help you hone your viewfinding skills. The mechanics are easy to understand and very easy to pick up regardless of your input method (controller or mouse & keyboard). Understanding how to manipulate pictures as well as finding the right angle are the biggest obstacles to overcome throughout the game. Some puzzles are real head scratchers that will leave you utterly baffled until you finally have that lightbulb moment where everything suddenly lines up. The final puzzle takes everything you’ve learned throughout the game and mashes it all together in the ultimate test, bringing you to the game’s heartfelt conclusion.
You’ll find pictures scattered throughout each area you visit, some of which are just for a fun side adventure or to take a break from the puzzling. Once you find or take a picture using the in-game cameras, you manipulate and then place them in the world to help solve puzzles, uncovering secret passageways, alternate routes, and ways to traverse the world where you couldn’t before. However, you have to be careful where you place these pictures as, once placed, they delete whatever was there previously, which can even break a puzzle. Thankfully, if you make this error, you’re able to rewind time to fix your mistake. You get unlimited rewinds, so make as many mistakes as you need to to find the solution. The puzzles, while similar to each other, are also varied enough that you never feel like you’re just repeating the same motions over and over again. Each puzzle still presented a unique challenge that I was more than up for tackling.
Later in the game, you’ll come to some places where pictures interact with the world differently, which is where the difficulty gets amped up a bit, but, I promise you, there is always a solution. Maybe you just need to take a selfie… Changing how you see the world also helps. Some areas may need you to realign your thinking or see the world through a different filter in order to discover its secrets. The game leaves little hints all over the place to help you figure out what you need to do. However if you are struggling, the game does eventually offer a hint, though some of those hints may already be obvious, like “The battery is visible, just out of reach”, as if I’d not already seen that… Thanks.
You can also find little collectibles as you explore. These don’t do much other than to act as a fun mini-game of treasure hunting. One of the hubs has a space theme going on, so you collect the planets in our solar system, for example. Some of the collectibles are found in the side pictures you find, which encourages you to explore more as you never know what will be hiding around the next corner or in the next frame.
The story in Viewfinder is one we’ve seen many times before, humanity’s attempts to save a dying world, however they put their own creative spin on it. In Viewfinder, you’re trying to find the secrets behind the research that ultimately failed at helping to restore the environment by going through a simulation that had been used as the testing grounds for new technologies that would help bring balance to the ecosystem once more. Throughout your puzzling adventure, you find research notes, conversation recordings, and more that tell the story of the scientists who embarked on this journey of life preservation, only to have it all come crashing down on them. Hopefully you can find the answers that they couldn’t.
In the simulation you meet Cait, a cat AI companion who resembles the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. It’s very fitting as this truly is a wonderland to explore. Cait acts as your tour guide, providing insight as well as keeping you company and giving you encouragement along the way. Make sure you pet him every chance you get. He deserves it.
Something that stood out to me tremendously was the audio. When you step into a picture, things around you change. Maybe that picture is a hand-drawn sketch or a blueprint or a game of Tetris. Every picture you step into has its own theme and sound effects that fit the new setting. The music in each area is soothing, much like the music in games like Minecraft. That coupled with the sound effects in each setting helps to really immerse you in each area you visit. My favorite sound effect by far is when you’re teleporting between areas, the static noise you hear sounds like a distorted purr.
Viewfinder is also very sound in performance. I never had any issues with stutters, frame drops, or any such malady that plagues many games these days. Movement and the mechanics are fluid and make for a pleasant gameplay experience. Graphically, the game looks stunning, no matter what version of the world you are viewing at the time, whether that be hand-drawn, retro aesthetic, negative, night vision, or any other view you find yourself in.
Overall, Viewfinder is a beautiful and heartfelt journey that challenges the player in different ways. It works well as a great mind exercise as well as just being a super fun game to play. I highly recommend this one to anyone who enjoys a good puzzle adventure, but also to just everyone. Just play this game. It’s not a particularly long one, with my playthrough clocking in at just shy of 7 hours. While replaying the game won’t change any of the outcomes, you can always challenge yourself to solving and completing each puzzle in record time. You can also revisit each area after completing the game if you want to go collectible hunting or to tackle any optional puzzles you passed along the way.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what this studio does in the future. I wish I could have had more time in Viewfinder, however the time I had was a truly memorable experience.
Cassie Peterson is an Editor for Gaming Trend but also a sporadic content creator and exceedingly average Rainbow Six Siege player. She goes by MzPanik on Twitter and Twitch and all of the gaming platforms.
Viewfinder is a beautiful and heartfelt journey that challenges the player in different ways. Perspective means everything in this game, and the challenges you face will give you a whole different view on puzzle solving games. Each puzzle is interesting and never feels repetitive or overly complicated. This game is a ton of fun, I can’t recommend it enough!