The day has finally come for me to review my first PS5 game, and I’m pretty happy that it’s Viewfinder. When I first saw this game announced back in 2022, I was pretty mesmerized by its surrealist vibe and mind-bending puzzles. Even though I knew it was going to be a pretty contained little puzzle game—not unlike Superliminal or even The Stanley Parable—it looked to me to really showcase what the PS5 was capable of.
Having first played the demo and now having played it pretty thoroughly for this review, I can safely say that my hopes for Viewfinder have been thoroughly met—providing a unique puzzle game that is constantly changing and constantly engaging.
Viewfinder tells its story in small glimpses rather than a straightforward narrative, and I think it suits the mysterious nature of the whole thing. You play as an unnamed…adventurer—for lack of a better term—navigating through a dream-like simulation created by some of the world’s greatest and most creative minds. However, the simulation breaks down for a moment revealing the intention of the expedition: a world on the brink of a climate disaster. It’s believed that the information for a climate-restoring machine lies within the simulation, and only by completing the many puzzles left behind by its creators can the impending apocalypse be averted.
Or so it might seem, as Viewfinder presents many compelling ideas that comment on the nature of perspective, much like the gameplay. Within every level are Post-it notes, audio logs, and even a virtual cat that give a bit of insight into who created the simulation. However, much like Dark Souls, a lot of this background is entirely optional for players who just want to enjoy solving puzzles.
“Viewfinder never really rests on one idea, consistently introducing new mechanics to build on the concept of image manipulation.”
And if you only want to enjoy solving puzzles, then you are in for a treat. Gameplay is where Viewfinder REALLY shines, and if you’ve seen the trailers or played the demo, you’ll have some idea of what I’m talking about. Viewfinder is made up of a collection of puzzle rooms where manipulating objects is the key to solving them.
The main way this is achieved is through pictures—either found within the level or captured with the titular Viewfinder. Players can view the picture in relation to their physical space and place it within the world to create new objects or even whole new spaces.
When I first experienced this in action, I marvelled at it for a solid hour, wracking my brain as to how this wizardry was achieved and desperately wishing I knew more about coding to understand how a 2D image just becomes 3D objects. Furthermore, Viewfinder does an excellent job of easing players into its mechanics—starting simply enough by using pictures of walls and bridges to make doors and floors to using more complex pictures for more creative solutions.
“It is a perfect blend of art, invention, and innovation that enthralled me until the end.”
But Viewfinder never really rests on one idea, consistently introducing new mechanics to build on the concept of image manipulation. From utilizing photocopiers to duplicate pictures, to experimenting with perspective to create new pathways, to using stationary cameras to capture images in fixed locations; the game has no shortage of new ideas to solve its fairly straightforward puzzles—which usually involve placing batteries on a pad to power the way forward.
Something I really like about Viewfinder’s approach to its gameplay is its relaxed attitude to its solutions. Like I’ve said before, a puzzle is something you have all the information to and the challenge comes from your ability to solve it. Viewfinder not only presents players with very clear rules on how its mechanics work, but it always gives players everything they need to figure out its many puzzles.
However, it gives players a lot of freedom to solve puzzles in their own creative ways. What’s more, Viewfinder doesn’t punish the player for not being able to solve things right away, giving players the ability to rewind to key points like when images were captured or used, or even to the beginning of a level, should the need arise.
One puzzle, in particular, presented me with a weighted scale that required two objects to power it fully. A big ol’ watermelon was on the scale, and a fixed camera pointed at a rather steep slope in an adjacent room.
Now I logically deduced that the solution was to place the watermelon on the slope and take a picture before it could roll down, but this proved challenging as the fruit always rolled faster than I could get to the camera. I ended up solving it by taking advantage of the game’s physics and jamming it into a corner where the top of the slope met a large wall and then rolling it by using a picture to take a small piece out of it.
“Viewfinder is an absolute gem…”
It was only at that moment that I realized what the game had wanted me to do—use a picture to slice the watermelon in half—since placing a picture will delete anything in its path—so it wouldn’t roll down the hill. It was an ingenious solution, but not one that was so rigidly tied to completion that there weren’t other ways to figure it out.
Much like the people who use physics tricks to beat Shrines in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there were quite a few moments where I completed puzzles and felt a little guilty like I had pulled a fast one on the game. There were more than a few times I found myself saying, “Well that’s one way to solve a puzzle.”
Visually Viewfinder is gorgeous, utilizing a simple cel-shaded aesthetic and a beautiful blend of primary and pastel colours that stand out in 1080p and 4K. This is significantly enhanced by some of the unique ways the game incorporates images into its world—monochrome images stand out sharply against the coloured world and add to the game’s dreamlike environments. Furthermore, players can unlock various colour filters for the Viewfinder through optional challenges that can really create some unique-looking environments.
“Visually Viewfinder is gorgeous, utilizing a simple cel-shaded aesthetic and a beautiful blend of primary and pastel colours that stand out in 1080p and 4K.”
Viewfinder’s soundtrack is equally ephemeral, often using a quiet synth ambiance combined with the sounds of birds and bugs chirping to create environments that seamlessly blend the natural and scientific and puts you in the right frame of mind to tackle its surreal puzzles. However, the music doesn’t stop at sombre synth, as each of the game’s hub worlds features music ranging from smooth jazz to calming meditation music; each track adding a splash of personality to the area’s reflective creator.
Of course, special mention should be given to the capacity of the PS5 that allows for such a game to be possible—though I’m sure PC players would attest that this has BEEN possible. Much like when the Switch launched, I would take time to acknowledge how the game suited the console and Viewfinder perfectly suits the PS5. The power that the console affords allows for seamless transitions between worlds and the seamless transition of 2D images to 3D objects that will never not seem like magic to me.
Even the small touches, like the simple ways the controller’s haptic feedback is used, or the way aiming the Viewfinder provides a small amount of resistance from the triggers, make it feel like you’re connected to this world and immerse you in simple ways that are truly effective. I was joking that this kind of game would easily be possible on PC, being on such a powerful console makes it so much more accessible to an audience who may not have the time or funds to build or acquire the kind of computer necessary to experience it fully.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. Viewfinder is an absolute gem, further proving that the independent scene is shining far brighter than anything the AAA space could dream up nowadays. It is a perfect blend of art, invention, and innovation that enthralled me until the end. You’d be doing yourself a massive disservice to miss out on what I’m sure will become a benchmark for future mystifying puzzle games.