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One of PC's best and spookiest puzzle games has returned from the abyss

Rage against the submachine

The inside of a diving bell in Submachine Legacy.
Image credit: Matteuz Skutnik

We talk about retro and throwback game releases being a "blast from the past", but in this case, it's more like you're strolling down a sunny path amid soothing birdsong, and then one particular, innocent-looking paving stone swivels underfoot with a rustle of gears, dropping you into a dingy, yellow-panelled room. There are vacuum tubes mounted on one wall, doors to either side, and a ladder leading further down into darkness.

You click one of the doors and the perspective switches over slide-projector style to a second room with identical proportions. There are pipes emerging from the floor, here, and some kind of antique radio on a pedastel in the centre. Hang on, I know this place. I know this formless sense of dread. I know these machinations. The last time I set foot here, it was 2009 and I was running a Flash game blog, writing up choice submissions to sites like Kongregate. This is Submachine, a 14-part escape puzzle series from Mateusz Skutnik, which Skutnik has now compiled, polished-up and re-released as Submachine: Legacy.

Submachine is one of the highlights - or perhaps that should be lowlights - of the Flash gaming era. It's clever, compact and menacing, a world of terrible contraptions that must be operated, fixed or broken, from relatively everyday clumps of pistons to eerie, pseudo-magical tech that calls to mind the Amnesia series. There's a story to follow, too, for those of you who find "pure" puzzles too dry. While deciphering each nugget of ominous gadgetry, you can gather up dropped journal entries that recount the exploits of an unfortunate lighthouse keeper.

A room with a wheel and a door in Submachine: Legacy
A strange machine consisting of a glass dome with floating puzzle pieces in Submachine Legacy
A metal door with a lamp in a red wall in Submachine: Legacy
A ball of wires and coloured lights in Submachine: Legacy.
Image credit: Matteuz Skutnik

The puzzles come and go in terms of consistency and satisfaction, but each Submachine chapter is a wonderful mood piece, and it's lovely to see them pieced together into a "complete" game. This isn't just a compilation of Flash ports, mind you: the visuals have been spruced up, new mechanics have been added, and the chapters have been re-interpreted as pieces of a much larger machine. And then there's Submachine: Universe, which I never played, but which is apparently a Submachine project consisting of over a thousand rooms, with each room containing clues as to the coordinates for the next.

If you're halfway interested in point-and-click puzzling and good old-fashioned eeriness, I can't recommend this enough. It's available on Steam or Itch. If you need a taster, you can still play the very first Submachine game on Kongregate.

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