Quarantine Circular is another short text adventure from Bithell Games. Like its predecessor, Subsurface Circular, Quarantine Circular was released with little fanfare and for the low price of $6. Both games share the same DNA, but they aren’t connected and you don’t need to play Subsurface first. That said, you probably should, because Subsurface is the better game. Quarantine Circular offers the player more choice in dialogue responses, but the ending is disappointing and the experience ends up being forgettable.
Quarantine Circular is a first contact story. An alien landed on a quarantine ship in the middle of the ocean where it was promptly captured to await questioning. The alien’s arrival doesn’t generate the excitement you might normally expect from such a monumental event because humanity is going through a possible extinction event due to a mysterious plague. Given the unknown origin of the plague, the alien quickly becomes suspect number one and also the main hope for a cure.
Playing as numerous different characters on the ship, you question the alien to uncover its motives in coming to Earth and hopefully find a cure for the plague. The characters all have different areas of expertise, such as the PhD student and security officer, although they tend to fit convenient stereotypes. For example, you can probably guess the attitude the security officer takes when she questions the alien.
There are lots of micro-choices to make as you play, generally revolving around whether or not you believe the alien is telling you the truth, however it isn’t until the finale that decisions start having any consequences. Events build to a crescendo and you’re pressured to think carefully with the fate of humanity in your hands. I couldn’t wait to see how those choices played out. I was convinced that I’d made some huge mistakes and knew there was a twist coming. Except there wasn’t. The story just petered out in the most predictable way possible. Subsurface Circular had me thinking about the ending long after completion; by comparison, Quarantine Circular has one of the more disappointing endings in recent memory.
Perhaps it wasn’t fair of me to expect a big twist ending. Subsurface Circular had one, however Quarantine Circular gives you more flexibility in your actions the entire way through the story which makes it harder to work towards a surprise at the end. Despite their similar appearance and mechanics, the two games are subtly different, and I suspect some players will prefer the variety of options and characters in Quarantine over the fixed perspective in Subsurface. Personally, I preferred the satisfying and slightly surprising conclusion in Subsurface over the fairly predictable story on offer here.
During conversations, you’re occasionally asked to solve light puzzles, which require digging through a few journal entries to look for passcodes and the like. In my review for Subsurface Circular, I stated that I enjoyed these puzzles and wished there were more of them, preferably of increasing difficulty. I’m of exactly the same opinion here. It always feels a touch greedy to ask for more when the product is already cheap, but I couldn’t help but feel I’d completed a set of tutorials and was left waiting for the real thing to kick in.
Quarantine Circular is engaging for most of its runtime, with punchy dialogue and a slowly-unraveling story, however it didn’t land the ending and left me feeling a little flat. Regardless, I love how Bithell Games keeps experimenting and I’m looking forward to whatever it springs on us next.