Viewfinder First Impressions

Viewfinder is a first-person puzzle game, and one that’s had impressive showings at GDC and recently Summer Game Fest. If you want to see it for yourself, there’s a demo available on PS5, so I recommend downloading that and giving it a go.

Viewfinder comes from Sad Owl Studios and Thunderful and it gives off Portal vibes, which isn’t to say it’s copying the classic puzzle game, it’s giving me the same wow moment through the puzzles. The objective of the game is to run around the levels, print out polaroid-style photos and then look at them and the landscape to create new paths to help you traverse the levels and ultimately solve the puzzles.

Visually, this is about as impressive as it gets. You’ll likely watch the trailer, or see some gameplay and think ‘how is that even possible?’. It’s a game that shows well, and plays even better. Many journalists came away from Summer Game Fest with a great first impression of this one, and I imagine it’s going to be rated very highly when it finally hits the mass audience.

Viewfinder starts out simple and progressively gets harder as you progress in the game. Walk around the level, explore a little then grab a photo from the dispenser and have a fresh look at the environment once again. Click the photograph into place and then simply walk into it, given it’s changed the environment. The objective is to make it from A to B and exit the level via a teleporter.

Things start to get more complicated when end of level teleporters require battery packs, which you can find hidden in the levels somewhere. Photos of various scenery can be used in ingenious ways; an archway can help you get through a locked gate, a skyscraper can be turned into a bridge and more. Experimenting with the different photos in the game is one of the most fun elements of Viewfinder.

Splicing through the world is the goal, which all adds up to a very satisfying experience. The discovery element of the game is something special to be played, and preferable to being described, so I’d recommend jumping in there, even if you only play the demo. The way the game plays with perspective and environment manipulation is impressive. It’s a great example of taking a core mechanic and really focusing down in it.

As well as manipulating environments by adding bridges or help to traverse, the whole environment can also change style too, depending on what type of picture you are looking at. Rather than realistic photographs, you can find pen drawings, then step into hand-drawn worlds made up of imperfect lines. There are also pencil sketched worlds as well as Monet-style works of art.

If you happen to fail while exploring the worlds, you can rewind with a simple click of a button. This allows you to retry solutions to puzzles, or save youself from falling into the abyss. This mechanic acts as your safety net which allows you to get creative and promotes the player into taking more risks. The puzzles themselves can be tricky, so playing around and not focusing on your safety and trying new things often leads to the most creative solutions to puzzles.

Overall, this is one of the most impressive puzzles games I’ve played in a long while. Zelda Tears of the Kingdom blew me away with it’s puzzle solutions, and this runs that a very close second, which is the highest compliment I can probably give it. It’s coming out on Steam, PS5 and PS4, and there’s a demo available on the PlayStation store right now, so get out there and give it a go, as this game is best experienced first hand.