Viewfinder Review | The Picture-Perfect Puzzle Game

90
Story
8
Gameplay
9
Visuals
10
Audio
9
Value for Money
9
Price:
$ 24
Clear Time:
6 Hours
Viewfinder is a mind-bending game that challenges you every step of the way. The game delivers amazing puzzles that reshape the simulated world you explore into a collage of beautiful artwork. Your perception of reality is playfully challenged as you continue your journey. While the narrative is thought-provoking, especially in the times we live in right now, it will definitely disappoint you that it doesn’t further explore its themes and characters in a more meaningful way by the end of the story. Although the plot isn’t as engaging, it more than makes up for it with its fun gameplay and beautiful visuals.

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Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle game that Sad Owl Studios developed, offering a thought-provoking commentary on climate change. Read our review to see what it did well, what it didn't do well, and if it's worth buying.

Viewfinder Review Overview

Viewfinder Pros & Cons

Pros Cons
Checkmark Fun and Innovative Puzzle Challenges
Checkmark Picture-Perfect Visuals
Checkmark Impressive Voice Acting and Catchy Music
Checkmark The Story is Too Short

Viewfinder Overall - 90/100

Viewfinder is a mind-bending game that challenges you every step of the way. The game delivers amazing puzzles that reshape the simulated world you explore into a collage of beautiful artwork. Your perception of reality is playfully challenged as you continue your journey. While the narrative is thought-provoking, especially in the times we live in right now, it will definitely disappoint you that it doesn’t further explore its themes and characters in a more meaningful way by the end of the story. Although the plot isn’t as engaging, it more than makes up for it with its fun gameplay and beautiful visuals.

Viewfinder Story - 8/10

Viewfinder doesn’t only challenge your mind with brain-melting puzzles; it also challenges you with a thought-provoking narrative and theme of climate change. The game’s story is uniquely intertwined with the gameplay and told throughout your journey through the simulation, whether that be answering Jesse’s calls, talking to the cat Cait, or finding notes and recordings from in the world. Although as interesting as the story sounds, it needed more time to cook and be fleshed out. By the end, the story felt underwhelming because it ended too soon.

Viewfinder Gameplay - 9/10

Viewfinder’s gameplay can be described with two words: mind-bending. You utilize various types of imagery to help you on your journey such as paintings, sketches, and photos.
You can bring these photos to life by either taking photos or using different artwork found in the game. Once the picture or artwork is held up and placed in the desired location, it comes to life and becomes a new area in that world. The puzzles themselves get increasingly more difficult yet it’s never to the point where you feel like the devs are messing with you.

Viewfinder Visuals - 10/10

Viewfinder is what you get if the game Portal was created by a Renaissance painter and a modern-contemporary artist. The visuals are breathtaking, especially since you get to manipulate and interact with the world as if you were painting over other people’s artwork. Simply put, this game’s art direction beats any other game in its genre.

Viewfinder Audio - 9/10

Viewfinder takes a unique approach to its music choices. The soundtrack serves as an ambiance that relaxes your tensions and comforts you with its jazzy and calming notes. The music plays a heavy role in the narrative, as it perfectly conveys the emotions of the researchers who built the simulation, which you come to know through the audio logs. Speaking of researchers, the voice-acting in this game is just superb. The portrayals of each character were perfectly done, most notably Cait, voiced by Paul Warren.

Viewfinder Value for Money - 9/10

Although the game is pretty short–clocking in about 6 hours of playtime–it does have optional levels to keep you playing for a few more hours. Those levels are more challenging and offer more variety in puzzles. For the price, you're definitely getting your money's worth especially if you are a puzzle fan.

Viewfinder Review | The Mind-Bending Puzzle Game That Paints The Bigger Picture

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Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle game where you explore a simulated world and solve puzzles to uncover the secret to save the world from the climate crisis. This game is basically what would happen if a Renaissance painter and a modern-contemporary artist made the game Portal. Let’s go further into detail with each category starting with its weakest point, its premise.

In this world, Earth has become a dystopian landscape where all non-human life has ceased to exist. You’re put inside an old simulation, tasked by a researcher named Jesse, to find the blueprints of a machine capable of reversing climate change and revitalizing the Earth’s flora. The narrative is structured around the gameplay, so there are no cutscenes. Instead, you play as a silent protagonist who mostly receives bits and pieces of lore from your companion throughout the game, Cait. Cait’s role is important, as they do an excellent job of informing you of events, all the while keeping you in the dark.

Most of the lore of the story can be found while you explore the levels and hubs. You’ll find notes and recordings created by former researchers regarding their efforts to cure the world and you’ll start to slowly grow fond of these people, as they’re not one-note scientists who just blab about scientific jargon in their logs.

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The majority of the recordings you listen to are about their personal lives and their friendship with one another. Particularly the character Hiraya, who in my opinion, is the best character in the game. She’s quirky and can be quite blunt, but has a heart of gold and deeply cares about her colleagues. Which is why it’s a shame that the story felt limited since it was so closely intertwined with the gameplay. There was a lack of proper closure for the characters and it felt like it ended too abruptly. In the end, I didn’t get the feeling of how important the topic of climate change is.

This game could have honestly used two or more levels to really flesh out the ending.

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Speaking of the gameplay, it’s the most addicting puzzle game I have ever played. Words can’t express how amazing it feels to solve puzzles by manipulating images into the real world with a press of a button. Aside from the tools you find throughout your journey, puzzles are solved with your perception and how you see things. Sometimes progressing to an area you can’t reach requires you to look at it from a different angle. Literally. There are cases where you have to position yourself properly at an angle so that your vision can solve a pattern which creates a path to move forward.

The levels are accessed through the hub where you can rest and access option challenges too. It’s a breathing space that lets you just unwind, and it also changes the further you progress. The levels themselves are cut into portions and vary in difficulty. Sometimes, the objective is to power your exit point with a battery, and sometimes, it’s to reach an exit point you can’t access. For the most part, your trusty tool is your camera. You just take a photo of an area and once the picture is held up and placed in the desired location, it comes to life and becomes a new area in that world.

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However, when these images come to life, their attributes and qualities remain the same in the world, which creates a beautiful collage of contrasting appearances that make you feel like you’re dimension hopping. This freedom allows players to, at one moment, enter a black-and-white photograph of a staircase, and, at another, a colorful painting of a house. But your most helpful tool is the rewind button. This is a god-sent gift that allows you to rewind your actions so that if you make a mistake trying to solve puzzles, then you’re able to start again from a certain moment. Basically, trial and error is encouraged, unlike some other puzzle games that force you to restart the whole level. Here, you have the option to do either.. Its addicting puzzle gameplay perfectly balances difficulty and creativity. Freedom is key as you can solve these puzzles in multiple ways.

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Another thing that sets this game apart from many other puzzle games is the lack of pressure. The game wants you to explore, take your time, and let your brain think outside of the box when it comes to solving your way through each puzzle. What better way to relax than listening to music and voice files you find through exploring the world? My favorite track is "CAIT’s theme." It’s when you enter the train that lets you move from one hub to another. The synthesizer and keys being played in this track invoke a sense of wonder, nostalgia, and deja vu. The music makes you feel like you’re revisiting a place of memory which is accurate to what the simulation represents.

Although the story felt a bit lackluster, the voice-acting does a terrific job of making you care about the characters– most of whom you don’t even see in the game. The voices helped me picture what type of person and how they would look like. For Hiraya, a Filipino who loves music, I get a sense that she’s the most fashionable of the bunch. The casting director did an amazing job finding the perfect voices for these characters. I just wish we got to hear them more and actually see what they looked like, because the game is gorgeous, with a stunning, soft palette look that makes it vibrant and lived-in.

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Yet there’s also a sense of unpolished details that look beautiful but make you realize that it’s still in a simulation with its unusually charming architecture and backdrops of blocky mountains. No better way to show that than with its hub lounges. These lounges were designed by the researchers in the past and you can see how much personality is given for each lounge. One lounge has a huge tree in the middle and the hub is designed with instruments like a rack filled with guitars; another lounge looks like a house without walls but with comfortable chairs to sit on. The world feels lived-in despite having no one there anymore besides a talking cat and yourself.

The levels themselves weren’t exactly meant to be manipulated with black-and-white pictures and paintings, but they became this way through age and corrupted files, thus making some simple riddles designed more challenging. Your interactions with these levels through pictures and paintings create a juxtaposition of contrasting yet beautiful dynamic visuals. These not only serve to solve the puzzles, but also make you feel like an artist every time you change the world. It’s as if the developers are telling us through visuals and gameplay that only we can control our destiny, and that our actions have a direct consequence on the world around us.

Pros of Viewfinder

Things Viewfinder Got Right
Checkmark Fun and Innovative Puzzle Challenges
Checkmark Picture-Perfect Visuals
Checkmark Impressive Voice Acting and Catchy Music

Fun and Innovative Puzzle Challenges

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There’s never a dull moment in solving puzzles in this game because of how engaging and rewarding it is. This game absolutely makes you think harder than usual, but it’s also forgiving and allows you to commit mistakes to achieve results. There are also so many ways to accomplish those puzzles so the game doesn’t force you to always think logically but to explore your creative side too.

Picture-Perfect Visuals

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I’ve already gushed about the breathtaking visuals enough, but I can’t stress enough how gorgeous the scenery of each hub and level there is. The fact that you can change how certain levels look and still make it look like a painting by a famous artist, says so much about how much care the developers put into their world. This art direction is an immersive experience that deserves an art book, and I would gladly pay for it.

Impressive Voice Acting and Catchy Music

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What the game lacks in story-telling, it more than makes up for with impressive voice-acting and performances by the cast. They did an excellent job in letting players care about their mission to revitalize the world with life. You can never go wrong with a talking cat to act as your conscience. The music also superbly complements your journey throughout this game and will definitely have you humming the beats during and after finishing the game.

Cons of Viewfinder

Things That Viewfinder Can Improve
Checkmark The Story is too Short

The Story is too Short

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Although the length of this game is perfectly fine, I wish they gave us more lore scattered in the game, preferably more audio logs. They were able to provide more context to the bigger picture the narrative tries to tell. Unfortunately by the end, the theme is never utilized to its full potential, and as much as I appreciate the ending of the story, I just couldn’t get fully behind it because of how rushed it felt. You can actually skip a large portion of the story if you just don’t listen to the recordings and read the notes, which can lead to players getting very confused by the end. There should have been a better way to balance and incorporate the optional audio logs and unskippable dialogues from Cait so that the story flows better. I’m all on board if the developers plan to deepen the story with DLCs in the future.

Is Viewfinder Worth It?

It’s Worth More Than A Museum Painting

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The game is priced at $24, which is fair for a game of this length which at most would clock at around 10 to 13 hours. Viewfinder is a well-crafted game that is worth your while and more valuable than a modern museum painting. It’s a great experience for all gamers, especially for fans of puzzle games or those looking for a fair challenge.

Platform Price
Steam IconSteam $24.99
PlayStation Store IconPlayStation Store $28.49

Viewfinder Overview & Premise

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Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle game that lets you explore a simulated world that you reshape through your camera and creativity. Immerse yourself in hours of fun and engaging puzzles while uncovering the mysteries of that world.

Are you ready to shape and redefine your reality?

Viewfinder FAQ

What Game Inspired Viewfinder

According to the director Matt Stark, Viewfinder draws inspiration from the games: "Portal, The Talos Principle, and The Witness"

Where Can I Play Viewfinder?

Viewfinder is currently available for purchase on Steam for its PC release and on the PS5. There is currently no news regarding a possible physical version of the game at this time.

Viewfinder Product Information

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Title VIEWFINDER
Release Date July 18, 2023
Developer Sad Owl Studios
Publisher Thunderful Publishing
Supported Platforms PlayStation 5, Steam
Genre Puzzle, Platformer
Number of Players 1
ESRB Rating E (Everyone)
Official Website Viewfinder Website
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