Viewfinder Review – A world worth capturing

Reviewed July 17, 2023 on PS5


PS4, PC, PS5


July 18, 2023


Thunderful Publishing


Sad Owl Studios

Interesting puzzle games are always a treat, but with so many brilliant entries in the genre, it can be difficult to find a way to stand out. This means that creating a mechanic that feels fresh and interesting is nearly essential. Luckily, Viewfinder is a game that boasts one such mechanic, describing itself as a mind-bending experience where you need to reshape reality by placing objects in the world.

The game revolves around using photos, paintings, and postcards to change the world around you. Doing so makes it easier to traverse the landscape or solve puzzles. It’s certainly a concept that sounds interesting, and I couldn’t help being immediately drawn to the game after seeing glimpses of the art style and mention of a deeper story.

Viewfinder does a great job at slowly introducing and then tutorialising new elements. When you first start playing, you walk around a small opening area and quickly take a tumble when a bridge collapses under your feet. Luckily you quickly learn that you are able to rewind time, returning yourself back to the upper level. This is a key mechanic for later in the game, as it is very easy to place objects in places that make traversal impossible and rewinding is the only way to undo your mistakes. Time travel is not often used for actual puzzle solving, but it is a neat way to allow players the freedom of options without penalty.

The opening half of the game actually leaves you without a camera of your own. You first learn about the main mechanic, placing images as physical objects in the world. When you hold up a photo in front of you and then place it, whatever is in the photo is then made physical, whether it be a bridge that you place over a gap or a battery that is required to power a teleporter.

This is the main way to solve a puzzle. Either by powering a teleporter or just by finding a way to reach one. Though the way that you reach that solution becomes more difficult with each new stage.

It doesn’t take long to master this first mechanic of placing photos. At first, it can be a little dizzying, watching as the flat image becomes a physical object, but it feels incredibly natural after even just the first few levels. Finding a new image, rotating it to your preferred orientation, and then placing it into the world becomes almost second nature. There is also great feedback to it, with the haptic feedback on the PS5 controller feeling very satisfying and chunky when placing an object.

Once the main mechanic of Viewfinder becomes familiar, the game gives you a Polaroid camera of your own that you can then use to take photos of the environment before placing them as before. At first, this seems like it makes many of the puzzles too easy, but each level has a curated number of photos that you can take before your camera runs out of film, forcing you to figure out ways to duplicate several items at once, or how to best utilise the environment for traversal.

One of the most interesting ways that the game shakes things up is when some later levels introduce a type of environment that cannot be photographed. This sometimes even includes objects in the area like batteries. This was where I started finding some real difficulties in the game, as all of my usual methods of solving puzzles were suddenly out the window. This is just one of the interesting challenges that are introduced in the back half of Viewfinder, and it becomes even more varied when other mechanics introduced in levels previous are layered on top of it.

Despite the challenges staying fresh as the game goes on, it rarely feels incredibly difficult. I was able to beat the main game in about four hours, and then it took me another hour to finish the optional levels. However, I wouldn’t call this a dealbreaker, as Viewfinder is definitely still engaging enough to keep your attention through its entire runtime, even if the difficulty is never nail-biting.

Viewfinder has a really appealing art style. The objects in the world are very soft, with rounded edges and blocky shapes, and the gentle lighting works perfectly with this. The whole game feels very relaxed and comfy to explore. The photos that are placed into the world also have their own colour palette. When you first start, they are just black and white, but you unlock more palettes as you play. This is really cool because it makes it very easy to distinguish between the normal layout of the world and any new architecture added by the player.

“The whole game feels very relaxed and comfy to explore”

The soundtrack for the game is also very subtle, none of the songs are real earworms, but they do capture a very specific vibe. The second to last hub in the game has this beautiful evening sky, and rain falling outside the building you use to access all of the levels in that area. I was playing through that area late at night, and the cozy vibe was utterly gorgeous. Soft and gentle, but subtly melancholic.

The only complaint I really have is that I think there is too much spoken dialogue in Viewfinder as there are multiple people that talk to you throughout. The first is your colleague Jessie who talks to you from the very beginning, then there are recordings that you can find left behind from the previous inhabitants of this world, and finally, there is the adorable cat companion Cait. I find that I like Cait’s contributions the most, but I do wish he would hold back on the compliments a little bit. Sometimes he would gush about my intelligence even when I just completed a puzzle that I found incredibly easy and I found that a little disingenuous.

I was pretty immediately grabbed by the story of Viewfinder. The game very quickly establishes that the world you are exploring is entirely virtual and that it was once inhabited by a group of scientists who are seemingly no longer around. At first, there isn’t an obvious reason why you have entered the simulation, or what the scientists were doing here before you arrived, but the answers do come pretty quickly. Maybe even too quickly.

The answering of questions and the overabundance of dialogue all tie into a related issue. I found that the characters are all far too keen to tell me exactly what is going on at any given moment. I think the world of Viewfinder is profoundly interesting, but I wish I had the chance to explore it and uncover its mysteries with far less direct guidance from others.

The game also has a brief moment near the beginning where you leave the simulation, to give you a quick glimpse at the real world outside. I felt like this took away from the game’s mysteries, showing me exactly what the future looks like instead of allowing me to infer based on subtle dialogue peppered throughout. I think it would have been better if this reveal either only came at the end, or never at all.

It’s also a little discomforting that you never get to see Jessie. All the scientists you hear are long gone, and you are just listening to recordings, but Jessie seems to be a real colleague or friend of yours that you never get to see. I understand that animating a human character model is difficult and I’m not saying that you have to see her, but it would be good if there was a reason as to why she isn’t in your real-world research lab when you do leave the simulation.

Again, many of the aforementioned issues aren’t big problems, more nitpicks than anything, but I do wish the story embraced subtlety a bit more and allowed players to figure out what is going on behind the scenes all on their own.

I still think that for the most part, the story achieves what it needs to. The ending still has a lot of weight, and the dialogue with Cait is excellent when it is used to forward the plot. He was by far my favourite character. His musings on the virtual world, and his questions about what the world outside might be like always come across with a gentle curiosity that promotes thought, without making it feel too forced. Also, you can pat him at any time, which is essential.




  • Great tutorialisation eases players into the experience
  • The vibrant and cozy aesthetic creates great vibes
  • An interesting puzzle mechanic elevates the title


  • Things are somewhat over-explained and dialogue heavy
  • The game is borderline too easy

Viewfinder is an incredibly interesting game with a mechanic that is very easy to pick up and highly enjoyable throughout the entire runtime. If you are looking for something truly difficult, you aren’t likely to find that here, but if you are interested in a short and comfy puzzle game, then Viewfinder will surely deliver.