A small army of scientists work feverishly to fight back against the inevitable, but their resistance may be futile. In the midst of all this, an unexpected discovery may decide the fate of the world, through life, or death. Visionary game director Mike Bithell introduces players to Quarantine Circular, a spiritual successor to Subsurface Circular. A text-based visual novel that can be played in one sitting, Quarantine Circular takes the foundation of Subsurface Circular and expands its scope, creating a thrilling short story of science, commitment, and humanity.
Time is running out for the future of humanity. A ravenous plague has taken hold of most of the planet. Countries and cities, already suffering from economic and civil strife, are soon to succumb to the virus. Climate change, war, and our constant ruination of the planet has taken its toll. Civil unrest and decay have taken hold. Humans may not last terribly long.
A vessel deep in the ocean is about to make the landmark discovery of extraterrestrial contact. The vessel is ordered to halt all communications and suspend operations for the arrival of a high-value target. Stepping off from an aerial vehicle, a large creature steps off. Captured and restrained, he is unarmed but treated as a prisoner. Who he is and why he is on Earth remains a complete mystery. The alien’s suit is advanced and seemingly prepared for combat, but doesn’t seem to have any features that would imply a soldier’s armor.
The alien shows no signs of hostility or ill-will to his captors. Yet, he is treated as a threat by a member of the small crew. However, to the others, he is seen as a mystery and perhaps an ally. With a virus set to render humanity mostly, if not entirely, extinct, the choices made will determine the fate of an entire civilization. Do you ally with the alien or treat him as a threat? Do you handle the issue on your own or do you face it together? The choice is yours and yours entirely.
Similar to Subsurface Circular, Quarantine Circular is a text-based story game where players will read lines of dialogue and make choices that affect the outcome of the story. The story is told through a scrolling text field, similar to that of a smartphone, with changing scenes and animations in the background. Along the course of the story players will have the option to gather information and ask questions pertaining to the issues at hand. Depending on your answers, the stances of characters, and the outcome fo the entire story will be affected.
Because of procedural generation, what that ending is entirely up to your choices, and you won’t have to wait long as the game can be finished relatively quickly in several hours. Quarantine Circular is not a direct sequel to Subsurface Circular or Volume, though it does help to play those games first to immerse players further into the unique, near-future world around them.
When playing Quarantine Circular, some may compare the game to the sci-fi drama, Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Reiner. The movie, if you may recall, focused on extraterrestrial life visiting the Earths. Where that movie ventured deep into the language, philosophy, and even a degree of neurological time travel, Quarantine Circular is much more focused.
In fact, Quarantine Circular‘s finest strength is specifically focusing on the relations between the small human crew and the one alien traveler. Whereas Arrival, the aliens arrive at a time without impending disaster, Quarantine Circular has an alien visitation in the face of impending extinction. The sense of urgency and pacing is finely tuned, but the game still allows for personal and human moments. One particular moment under the moonlight was extraordinarily whimsical, bringing up topics of time, humanity, and the endearment of the human species is despite the odds.
While the entire experience can be wrapped up in a few hours, multiple playthroughs of Quarantine Circular are encouraged as the story touches upon various possibilities and several different endings. Players will experience the drama, action, humor, love, and the dilemmas of military order meeting scientific pursuits. The lore behind the alien visitor, coupled with the characters and the crisis facing the planets is incredibly fascinating and relevant to our culture of today. The reading and its presentation are as still as sharp as ever.
Each line of dialogue brings ambition and interest, constantly pulling the player to learn more. Each character is distinct in their dialogue and reasonings, and by the end of the game, players will have connected to the characters and the story. The overall experience feels believable and plausible. The choices made truly feel as if they have gravity and impact on the situation at large.
With each interaction and subsequent effect, I found myself pondering about various topics related to today’s world, in regards to climate change, coping and the possibility that the notion of fear is not just instinctual upon humans but perhaps instinctual upon all living creatures. The concepts of time and even the definition of humanity and selfless services are also themes, going beyond what we know and going further when weaving in the alien’s purposes and his reasoning for being on Earth.
Finally, the music and visual presentation of Quarantine Circular is quite sharp. Similar to Subsurface Circular, the text appears in the middle, but characters move and animate in the background. Players will see some movement and reaction, depending on what they choose. While the scenery is limited, the design choices of the scientist and the primary alien protagonists are sharply designed and fascinating.
The design of the alien visitor was reminiscent of the “prawns” from District 9, but the technology and discourse on virulent outbreaks are also interesting. The music, composed by Dan Le Sac heightens the mood, featuring an electronic score that is mysterious, charged, by soothing, all at the right moments.
Quarantine Circular is a fascinating story that, while short, does exhibit a tremendous vision of science-fiction and the future. The game weaves together with a familiar plot but with a strong thread of storytelling. With captivating characters, a unique story, choices that matter, and a sharp presentation. it’s the strongest strength is its ability to maintain culturally-relevant, but open-minded, encouraging the player to make a connection to the world of the game and the real world they inhabit. Bithell has done it again with his latest installment in his sci-fi world. I cannot wait to see more, and encourage everyone to take the leap.
Quarantine Circular is a fascinating story that, while short, does exhibit a tremendous vision of science-fiction and the future. The game weaves together with a familiar plot but with a strong thread of storytelling.