PS5 Review Sad Owl Studios Thunderful Publishing Viewfinder PS5 review

Viewfinder Review (PS5) – An Ingenious, Perspective Bending Puzzler Like No Other

viewfinder ps5 review

Viewfinder PS5 review. Following in the grand footsteps of legendary titles such as Portal and Portal 2 – a pair of games that effectively weaponise the first-person perspective to fashion some truly ingenious conundrums – Viewfinder from Sad Owl Studios seeks to innovate in a similar way, making deft use of perspective and depth to create a puzzler quite unlike any other.

Viewfinder PS5 Review

An Ingenious, Perspective Bending Puzzler Like No Other

Those looking for a complicated or nuanced narrative setup might enjoy the dystopian story that unfurls here, a somewhat nebulous tale about creative and intellectual types trying to find a solution to an alternate Earth where a climate crisis has reached a critical point, but honestly it didn’t do much for me. Certainly, the various post-it notes, audio diaries and other such traditional (and overused) tools for lore and world building did little to help things along, but honestly I’m burying the lede here; Viewfinder is a tremendously fresh three-dimensional puzzler and its within the creative promise of those realms that the game really shines.

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Perhaps the most surprising thing about Viewfinder is that it is designed largely built around a single, solitary conceit, namely being able to superimpose a photograph over the environment that you’re in to create a bridge where one doesn’t exist, a pathway into another room through a solid wall and much, much more besides as you attempt to reach the teleporter which marks the end of each stage.

Smartly, Viewfinder’s photo superimposition mechanic doesn’t work in a vacuum; place a photo over a surface and everything in that Z-axis corridor is effectively erased out of the level. This means if there are batteries that you need to collect in order to power a teleporter for example and your photo is superimposed over it, the battery is deleted from existence – making it impossible for you to complete that particular area. Luckily though, Viewfinder manages to neatly sidestep such frustrations by allowing you to rewind the action to before you superimposed that photo, enabling you to correct your mistake and tackle the puzzle again.

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Long before you come to appreciate the nuance of Viewfinder’s photo imposing shenanigans, it strikes you immediately and powerfully just how unique this is on a purely visual level. Quite simply, it feels like you’re carving through reality with an alternate reality, forcing time and space to exist within another version itself to create a sum greater than each that solves a physical problem – such as reaching across a seemingly massive chasm – in a way that would previously be impossible. It feels like it belongs to the same arcane school of reality bending magic that so well defined the Portal games and I absolutely love it.

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Despite this mechanic being its sole marquee attraction, developer Sad Owl Studios makes the most of it across Viewfinder’s roughly eight to ten hours of playtime. As the perfectly judged difficulty level slowly increments as you become more and more comfortable with not only superimposing photos on the world, but rotating them, so too do additional elements, such as photocopiers, cameras and more allow you to duplicate photos and chain their superimpositions together to solve the trickier puzzles which abound later on in the game.

The implementation of this mechanic however isn’t quite perfect, however. As the game progresses, you’ll discover that more than a few of the levels that you’ll wander into require you to superimpose photos at a highly obtuse or shallow reflex angle, directly resulting in the gravity being shifted and then you tumbling to your death as a result. While such incidents are easily remedied (thanks in no small part to the handy rewind functionality), it becomes more difficult when after multiple photos have been superimposed at different angles, you don’t really know what angle is level and what looks like a perfectly walkable corridor is actually one that is slanted at a steeper angle than you expect – resulting in you falling through the corridor, rather than being able to leisurely walk down it.

As a result, it’s clear that some sort of compass or other visual aid for orientating yourself would help greatly here, though clearly this is something that could easily be enabled by a post-release update, so fingers crossed, eh?

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The individual puzzle worlds of Viewfinder are all linked together by various hub areas in which the mysterious Cait – a spectre like grinning cat who draws an appropriate allegory to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – follows you around and narrates the story of each area and its former inhabitants. Again, the story in Viewfinder didn’t really capture me at all and these hub areas seem to swim in exposition, but your mileage may indeed vary.

It’s also worth mentioning that not only is Viewfinder an opulent affair that is easy on the eyes with sharp, colorful and vibrant environments supported by a liquid smooth frame rate, but so too is it stylishly extravagant, with certain areas boasting a kaleidoscope of visual veneers, ranging from the painterly splashes of toddlers, through to a pixel-art dungeon and a multitude of styles in-between. Viewfinder is absolutely overflowing with visual creativity, to say the least.

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In terms of replay value, Viewfinder offers little beyond collectible items (if you like rubber ducks, this game has your back) and the temptation to replay levels that you’ve already conquered, but honestly, the lack of additional replay value just underscores the sore fact that when Viewfinder ends it’s a bittersweet experience and one that you’ll never want to end.

Though the narrative setup did little for me and the occasional orientation issues mildly frustrated, Viewfinder still manages to shine through as a resolutely interesting, smart and enjoyable three-dimensional puzzler that feels like it was cut from the same, ingenious cloth as Valve’s legendary Portal games. What’s not to like?

Viewfinder releases for PS5 on July 18, 2023. A free demo is available on the PlayStation Store.

Review code kindly provided by PR.



The Final Word

Though the narrative setup did little for me and the occasional orientation issues mildly frustrated, Viewfinder still manages to shine through as a resolutely interesting, smart and enjoyable three-dimensional puzzler that feels like it was cut from the same, ingenious cloth as Valve's legendary Portal games. What's not to like?