The Game Awards 2022 was home to all kinds of massive game reveals and big blockbuster announcements, but one of the most exciting games featured at the show was the creative indie game Viewfinder. A first-person puzzle game that has drawn comparisons to titles like Superliminal and The Witness, Viewfinder lets players bring pictures to life by placing them into the game world. It’s difficult to properly explain Viewfinder‘s mind-bending gimmick on paper and do it justice, but rest assured that it will leave most players amazed at the possibilities.
Viewfinder‘s gimmick of bringing pictures to life is one of the most innovative ideas first-person puzzle games have seen since Portal‘s portal gun. There’s a definite “wow” moment the first time players lay down a picture and step into it. New twists on the concept are gradually introduced as players progress, though nothing beats the first time experiencing the picture-to-reality mechanic.
Initially, players have to make do with pre-existing photographs that they find lying around the stages to solve puzzles. Sometimes players may have to do more with these photographs before placing them in the game world, like tilting them to make sloped objects or creating copies using a photocopier. To provide an example as to why this would be useful, multiple puzzles in the game challenge players to charge teleporters using batteries, and the challenge is to collect the required number of batteries and place them near the teleportation device. If players are given one photograph of a battery to work with, they could create copies of that photograph, place those photos in the game world, and step into all of them one-by-one to get all the batteries they need.
At about the midway point through the game, Viewfinder players get a camera that lets them take their own photographs to use. With it, players are given a lot more freedom when it comes to solving puzzles and overcoming obstacles. For example, there may be a gap that’s too wide for players to jump across but with the camera, players can take a picture of another object, or maybe even the ground beneath their feet, and then bring that photo to life to build a bridge.
A nice touch with the pictures in Viewfinder is that they sometimes utilize different art styles. The game world uses bright, vibrant colors and a futuristic aesthetic, but players can disrupt that with black-and-white photographs, pencil drawings, water color paintings, and some especially unique looks that shouldn’t be spoiled here. Placed objects can also tear into the terrain, allowing players to literally reshape the world around them with different colors and objects as they tackle Viewfinder‘s challenges.
It’s not uncommon for puzzle games to become overwhelming and frustrating, but Viewfinder doesn’t have that problem. There are a handful of puzzles near the end of the game that may leave players scratching their heads, especially since the hint system is not particularly helpful, but for the most part, players will always have a clear idea of what they need to do. Some may find Viewfinder doesn’t truly push its puzzle design to its limits, while others will appreciate the cozier approach.
Besides the main puzzles, there are also optional levels in each world that players can check out for an added challenge. They don’t up the difficulty all that significantly, but they tend to require players to think a bit more outside the box than the puzzles that are mandatory to get through Viewfinder‘s story.
Players will want to play through the entirety of Viewfinder‘s story to see all the clever ways that the game’s picture-to-reality gimmick is utilized, but the plot itself isn’t compelling. Viewfinder‘s narrative is its biggest weak point, as it lacks a strong hook to keep players invested. Players are plopped into Viewfinder‘s game world with little explanation and while it may seem at first that there’s some kind of big mystery to unravel, there really isn’t.
Viewfinder‘s story falls completely flat and is basically devoid of any interesting characters save for a talking cat that tags along in most of the levels. Players can listen to audio logs to learn more about the human characters who helped create the world they’re exploring, but their stories and relationships are bland. Viewfinder‘s storytelling is in desperate need of something more exciting to spice things up. The lackluster plot is what ultimately keeps Viewfinder from reaching the heights it should have, and what will stop it from being looked back at as fondly as other major first-person puzzle games that have been released over the years.
Some may also be disappointed by Viewfinder‘s relatively short length. The game has five hub worlds with their own set of mandatory levels and optional challenges, but all the content can be breezed through in about five hours. Many puzzle games like this are on the shorter side, but it feels like Viewfinder rolls credits when there is still a ton of untapped potential for its picture-to-reality gimmick. It would be great to see this idea revisited in a sequel or a different kind of game entirely, as while Viewfinder does a great job of showcasing why this is such a great idea for a video game, it doesn’t go quite far enough to solidify itself as the all-time great puzzle game that perhaps it could have been if it were meatier and had a more engaging story to chew on.
Viewfinder is fun while it lasts and has more than one moment that will leave players with a smile on their faces. It doesn’t live up to its full potential, but it’s still a solid game and one that will hopefully inspire others to explore similar concepts. It’s easy to see how Viewfinder‘s picture-to-reality idea could be huge for something like a horror game or even a first-person shooter. Applying the brilliant idea at its core to something with a better story and more content would be the makings of an instant classic. What’s here is still certainly worth the price of admission, however.
Viewfinder is a unique first-person puzzle game that lets players reshape the game world by bringing pictures to life.
Viewfinder launches July 18 for PC and PS5. Game Rant was provided with a PC code for this review.