There have been some fantastic puzzle games that force you to think spatially and/or use perspective for some very clever puzzle design. But Viewfinder is the first puzzle game since Portal that made me think "wow!" when I saw the main puzzle mechanic. What’s more, it’s the first puzzle mechanic in a long time that I spent some time actually playing with, as opposed to trying to just get through the game.
Viewfinder is a first person puzzle game. While Portal had me thinking with portals, Viewfinder had me rethinking spaces as both gateways and even as objects that can help you bypass obstacles to get you to your next objective.
In Viewfinder, the main puzzle mechanic is all about photographs. Each photograph acts as a sort of portal to the visible area of that photograph. Whatever was behind that photograph when you place it is completely obliterated (most of the time) and replaced with the objects in tha photo. The effect is seamless, and quite stunning–in fact, I’m still impressed by it even after playing through the game. If this sounds a little too powerful and game breaking, that’s because it is a little bit. However, Viewfinder allows you to rewind time to undo any damage you might do. In fact, you can unwind time to specific checkpoints in your timeline to undo any damage or redo picture placement.
Photos in Viewfinder are acquired in different ways, depending on the puzzle. Sometimes you have to hunt for the photos – and some of the only times I was stumped in Viewfinder was when I couldn’t find a photo to proceed. Eventually you’re given a camera, but unlike acquiring the Portal Gun in Portal ,the camera isn’t something you wield all the time. And even then, the camera’s usefulness is limited to how much film you have.
There are multiple zones, each with their own slight twist on the picture puzzle mechanic. As you progress through the game, the zones begin to restrict your ability to make wide changes to its world–which I found ironic, considering how clever its design had been up until that point. It really gives off the impression that Viewfinder was running out of ideas.
However, when I looked back at my playtime I certainly didn’t feel like I spent 10 hours playing. It’s a game that had me so engrossed in its puzzle mechanics, I didn’t really pay attention to much else–including the lore that ties the world together. I got a passing glimpse, but I was too busy paying more attention to the gameplay itself.
Viewfinder does have a story that ties it all together. Without too many spoilers: you’re on a mission to recover a weather device using a computer simulator. Most of the story is told through your companion outside of the simulation, as well as recorded audio you find inside.
While Viewfinder has a great concept. It feels like one that has stretched its limits, but never exceeded them. It really didn’t have to. It was consistently surprising and mind bending.
Despite any criticism I might have of Viewfinder, I ended up putting 10 hours into the game before I even knew it. I was so completely intrigued by its photo puzzle mechanic, I couldn't help but play with it instead of just trying to beat the game. I haven't done that in years, and it brought some joy to this old bitter gamer.