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Silt Thrives in a Twisted Fantasy

Creepy and atmospheric with undeniably stunning art direction, Silt is the perfect way to spend a few hours on a rainy night



Silt Review

Developer: Spiral Circus | Publisher: Fireshine Games | Genre: Atmospheric Puzzle Adventure | Platform: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/X/S, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

It is human nature to seek explanation. To understand the mysteries of the world, to uncover the unknown, and to shed light on that which is shrouded in darkness. There will always be something satisfying in rationality. On the other hand, art can be at its most moving when it is at its most unsettling and unfathomable. Silt, the first game from UK developer Spiral Circus, taps into shadowy surrealism to present an art piece that is eerily beautiful. It has its flaws as an entry into the indie pantheon of 2D arthouse puzzle games, but its aesthetic direction balances out the uneven mechanics. If players can manage the occasionally frustrating controls and somewhat repetitive puzzle design, they will find delight in the morbidity and an interesting mystery to invest in.

Image: Spiral Circus

Floating in Limbo

Browsing the comments section of Silt‘s announcement trailer, it seems that players have drawn a straight line from Silt to another popular indie. To dispense with an obvious comparison: Silt is a very different game than Limbo, Playdead’s black-and-white puzzle platformer from 2010. The two games share a surface similarity in their color schemes and macabre art direction, but the two titles diverge in mechanics almost immediately. Limbo is, at its core, an extremely precise platformer where players learn to perfect jumps and solve puzzles by trying (and dying) over and over again. By contrast, Silt almost feels like a playable picture book. Puzzles are slightly more straightforward, but the entire experience, from mechanics to the parable-like nature of its storytelling, feels altogether looser.

Silt begins ominously. On a black screen, white text appears, rhyming couplets that set the stage for the player:

In endless depths, Goliaths roam,
Beneath the waves and crashing foams,
Hunt them down, remove their eyes,
For this is where their power lies,
A great machine lies deep in wait,
Awaken it to seal your fate.

After reading this introduction, which feels like something out of Lewis Carrol or a darker Roald Dahl, players find themselves controlling a being wearing what looks to be an old-timey scuba suit. But something is wrong: the diver is chained up, unable to swim freely. Instead, they drift, listlessly, until the player breaks them free and send them to collect the eyes of the Goliaths.

Possession of a terrifying deep-sea creature. Image: Spiral Circus

Instead of tugging at their chain until it snaps, or slipping free of their bondage, the diver uses an unexpected skill: the ability to send out a spectral tendril to a nearby sea creature and take control of their body. The implications of this action are both horrifying and fascinating, and the choice to have the diver bound in the depths of the sea feels like a strong narrative choice. But players will have to make do with tantalizing worldbuilding and little else, as there are no other cryptic rhymes to be unearthed, no audio logs or journals or NPCs to chat with. Even the four Goliaths are silent, behemoths who exist to have their eyes plucked out. More than anything else, Silt aims to stir feelings more than tell a straightforward story.

After escaping their shackles, players are free to swim in any direction. They have just a handful of abilities: their body-snatching soul-tentacle and a headlamp. Making it past obstacles is the primary objective, whether it’s a simple rope blocking the path forward or maneuvering past the snapping jaws of some creepy cave-dweller. Clever possession is almost always the key, as the diver never gains any new skills or finds tools that expand their moveset on their own. If a puzzle seems confounding, swim around a little more; there is probably a helpful creature nearby that can smash through a barrier or electrify a door into opening.

Solving puzzles always feels good, though there are a few that players might find frustrating. Death is instant, and though the game autosaves upon entering any new screen, the diver moves slowly enough that it can feel annoying to have to swim all the way back to a problem area. Some creatures can detect the diver’s presence from a little too far away to feel totally fair, especially since the diver doesn’t have great reflexes. Not every puzzle is a winner, but that’s not really the draw of Silt. Instead, the game is at its best when players can move through the surreal setpieces and take in the lush art direction at their leisure.

Silt Review for PlayStation 5 Spiral Circus game
Image: Spiral Circus

A Beautiful Nightmare

The ocean is terrifying enough, but Silt is more than just a deep-sea diver simulator. The depths of the sea are full of luminous invertebrates and Silt does showcase that, but the real draw are the creatures and environments that spring from the imagination of Mr. Mead, the game’s art director and studio co-founder. It is impossible not to linger on every screen of Silt, even when the game wants to rush you through an area. Every background and scuttling critter is disgustingly fascinating, a blend of Edward Gorey sketches and David Cronenberg nightmare creatures. For fans of existential horror that is also weirdly cute, Silt is unmissable.

Mr. Mead’s style is immediately distinct. The play of light and darkness combined with the sharp angles and puppet-like characters is incredibly unique. Every creature, from spindly-legged crabs to undulating electric eels, is fascinating to watch. As players continue their quest to find and defeat the four Goliaths, they’ll swim through different environs, and each one feels extremely unique. There is much more to see than just coral-covered caves: a sunken factory with barely-functioning conveyor belts and fans, a gnarled tree that feels right out of a Tim Burton feature, a mind-bogglingly large infernal machine that the player must swim directly into.

Silt Review for PlayStation 5 Spiral Circus game
Image: Spiral Circus

The entire aesthetic is oddly awe-inspiring and occasionally overwhelming, like if H.P. Lovecraft decided to write and draw a children’s book. Silt‘s world plays on the fear of the unknown, and even the diver’s headlamp cannot illuminate every dark corner. Players will always feel slightly unsettled, as the narrative is not a neat little package that is perfectly presented. There is a sense that the player is doing something wrong by simply progressing, that they are freeing things that are better left locked up and drowned at the bottom of the ocean. It is a remarkable achievement, and Silt can stand proudly alongside Gris and Hoa as indie games with an unwavering sense of style that makes for an immersive experience.

Short but impactful, Silt is likely not for everyone. It occasionally feels more like a tone piece than a puzzle game, but there is room in the space for different kinds of expression. For those who want to see beautiful art in action and are not scared of the crushing indifference of the deep ocean, they will find something to love.

Cameron Daxon is a video game evangelist and enthusiastic reader. He lives in Los Angeles, California and once nearly collided with Shigeru Miyamoto during E3. His favorite game is Bloodborne, but only when he’s not revisiting Super Mario World. He’s also in the writer’s room for YouTube personality The Completionist and other places on the internet.