Bringing photos to life is the main idea behind Viewfinder. But the game isn’t simply about exploring the inners of a captured image but rather using the objects inside the print to expand the 3D world around you. Across the relatively short campaign, I was able to take 2D objects, say in a photograph and place them down in front of me. What was at first a flat image, soon gained dimensions. Stairs became actual stairs I could walk up. Pillars turned into real concrete structures that had volume and took up space. It is honestly unlike anything I had seen in a puzzle game.
Viewfinder doesn’t actually give you any goal at the start of the game. I was simply placed into this experimental AR thingymajig and set off to explore a series of hubs. Each hub had ever-expanding puzzles brought to life with this 2D-to-3D gameplay mechanic. I was also given no clear goal or tutorial – just picked up photographs, pointed them in front of me and pressed a button. As a result, these photos would sort of etch themselves into the space around me. Materialise so to say.
Where the magic comes from in Viewfinder is that even though these photographs are flat, they hold secrets once placed down. Sort of as if each photo plays host to a miniature world inside of it which had its own explorable little hub and often, another photo to place down.
The game expanded even more and at times, let me take my own photos. This meant I had to capture the world around me keeping in mind that I would need to take the structure somewhere else in the level and duplicate it. So if there was a missing bridge or walkway, I would snap a photo of an existing one and carry it to another spot in order to summon it into existence.
Most of these puzzles relied upon carrying objects in and out of photographs. Specifically batteries to power these teleporters. Some photos also contained collectible items that I had to really hunt down by searching within the world it had created in front of me.
While these puzzles weren’t overly complicated, it was charming to see the neat and well-arranged world around me turn upside down as I spammed photographs into every possible space. The game also questions the rules of gravity as each photo implements its own weight and direction. So if I placed down a bedroom with a porch at the end but put it flat on the floor in front of me facing downwards, that area I materialized would essentially be a giant hole in the floor with possible death out that porch window.
Sure, things do get a bit clunky at times. While there are likely neat ways to approach Viewfinder’s puzzles, it didn’t hurt to spam down an object over and over again to get the same result. A ladder made of desks? Why not?
The mind-bending part of it all is how distracted I got in these photos within photos. I didn’t realise how far into this “new world” I was until I had to rewind my placements in order to start placing down photos from scratch. It all gets a little trippy after a while. I remember walking around for a good few minutes trying to get to a terminal only to remember I could rotate the photo with the terminal in it to sit flush with the floor. It is one of the “easier” solutions here but my mind was so far out there thinking of the weird approaches instead of just doing the simple.
Viewfinder also expands on this trippiness with a handful of different art styles attached to certain images. I would go from a beautiful garden vista to a cel-shaded area with a simple photo placement. This would stick out like a sore thumb and look like a literal gateway to another dimension. Not to mention I could then snap photos of these photos and make an infinite multiverse of structures that stretched out into the far distance.
The game lasts around five hours or so. There are also optional areas to explore which offer somewhat challenging puzzles to overcome. You also need to enjoy puzzle-solving to enjoy Viewfinder because there isn’t much going on here. The story is somewhat lacking and it leans heavily on self-interpretation. Of course, this means you need to care enough to interpret it. Of which, I didn’t.
I don’t think Viewfinder is too short though. I thought the 5-hour campaign was a decent length without making the game’s mechanics overstay their welcome. However, I do wonder where other games and genres could take this incredible puzzle-in-a-picture mechanic. I hope we do get to see more of Viewfinder somewhere down the line.
Viewfinder might be short on the story and offer only a bite-sized campaign but its puzzle mechanics are unlike anything we have experienced to date. This is definitely something you want to play at least once.