A photo can capture victory, defeat, love, hate, a dog at the beach or a sassy cat stretching out in the sun. It is a medium that speaks simply but can have a strong effect. Viewfinder makes that effect literal as its photos change and distort the real world in all sorts of ways, which the game uses as the basis for its puzzles. And while it’s an impressive mechanic, the rest of the experience is almost as two-dimensional as an actual photo.
It’s hard to underestimate how amazing this mechanism is. Projecting a 2D image into the 3D world and then seeing how that perspective translates into another dimension is immediately dazzling, especially when crushing disparate art styles. It adds literal depth to these images and allows players to explore what was previously unexplored. And while adding dimension to pre-determined 2D images is a unique thrill, taking photos of the existing environment to transform it is liberating due to the amount of control it provides.
It’s a core mechanic as fresh and flexible as a portal gun, but it leaves much of its vast potential untapped. Most levels often only require a few obvious steps after a few seconds. Far too many are little more complicated than taking a photo of a battery and then rotating it or duplicating batteries across even more photos. Taking a shot of a flat wall and using it as a bridge to access an out-of-reach area is also another popular solution that the viewfinder frequently uses as a kickstand instead of something fancier. Players are pushed into patterns and barely encouraged to think critically – fatal flaws in any puzzle game.
Because of these simplistic solutions, Viewfinder feels more like a series of tutorial missions desperately stretching the most basic form of mechanics in an effort to distract players from its finesse. Its well-paced rollout of new twists – like walls that aren’t affected by the player’s camera – is also undercooked. Viewfinder is a relaxing experience with a saturated art style that reinforces that vibe, but a puzzle game that doesn’t offer much resistance isn’t really a puzzle game.
Its handful of inconsistently interspersed optional missions stand out because they require the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that the rest of the game lacks. at the end. But sequestering that level of complexity – and the intrinsic reward that goes with it – to a few easy-to-miss side objectives is frustrating.
Viewfinder Review: The Final Verdict
It’s ironic that a game that’s all about bringing images to life can’t bring its own core mechanic to life. Seeing a flat image turn into something tangible or using photography to reposition the existing scene is a technical marvel that goes little beyond a simple visual spectacle. These systems deserve so much more than that, but, like films lacking in contrast, they’re underdeveloped and offer little insight into what they should be.
Taking and posing photos is visually captivating
Only a handful of puzzles make really good use of the mechanics
Most puzzles are way too easy
Disclaimer: This viewfinder review is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Revised to version 1.001.000.