Capsule Review: Quarantine Circular

A conversational game about first contact with an alien race and the ramifications for humanity’s chances of survival. Play control rotates between a few humans and even the alien, and each has their own goals to accomplish mainly through dialog choices. The game is a semi-sequel to Subsurface Circular with a similar format and apparently set in the same world, but they stand separately and can be played in any order. They have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, but a lot of this review will be familiar if you’ve read the previous one.

Like its predecessor, Quarantine Circular is fairly short (one playthrough took me just under two hours) and simple, with interaction mostly limited to dialog choices. The “focus point” system whereby you can optionally ask about topics you’ve heard mentioned is technically back, though much more limited and depth comes from other sources - swapping between characters with different goals and a few moments where the game tracks how one character feels about the actions or statements of another. As before, some puzzles add variety but vary greatly in how well-integrated they are - and this time the hint system is almost useless, so if you get stuck or are just uninterested in solving arbitrary implausible puzzles you’ll have to look the answers up online.

As before, the game’s atmosphere and character-driven worldbuilding are its greatest strengths. Most storytelling is done via text, but the visuals provide a solid foundation for the game’s tone, especially with the mysterious alien towering imposingly above the small and frail humans. However, switching between characters with different goals makes that tone bizarrely inconsistent - in particular, playing as the alien removes a lot of the mystery. Still, the gradual unfurling of the plot reveals kept me intrigued through to the surprising but inevitable-in-hindsight ending - several of which are available and based logically on your choices.

There are a few moments that don’t really make sense, including a touching scene involving wordplay that should be completely impossible given what the story has told us about the languages involved. A couple of times characters act bizarrely to enable dialog puzzles or keep aspects of the story on rails, resulting in them feeling more like plot devices than people - something Subsurface Circular was more able to get away with given that its characters were literally robots designed to fulfill particular purposes. But for me, these failings were not enough to destroy the game’s largely-successful atmosphere and I always wanted to see what would happen next.

Much like with the first game, whether you can enjoy Quarantine Circular will come down to how much you like reading and whether the atmosphere works for you. Despite a few imperfections in the puzzles and story, I found it a compelling world to occupy for two hours or so and it’s been sticking with me since then.

I Stopped Playing When: I finished a complete playthrough in a single sitting. I found the ending I got to be a satisfying conclusion, so I didn’t play again to try for other endings (though I did look online to see what they were). As with Subsurface Circular, there is developer commentary available in repeat playthroughs via dialog options but again I wasn’t interested in this delivery method.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.