Get lost in the experience
When it comes to challenging video games there is a fine line developers must walk between difficult fun and punishing frustration. When it comes to puzzle games, this line becomes almost invisible. But with Antichamber, developer Alexander Bruce has managed to produce something that does just that. It is a game that puts your mind to work and solving one of its many puzzle is truly something to be proud of. The game never just gives you the solution, it forces you to put your brain to work and that is what makes it so much fun.
Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game in the same vine as the Portal series, however if Portal is a head scratcher, Antichamber is an entrance exam for MENSA. The player must use their wits and a few moveable colored blocks to find a solution to the task. The puzzles are enormously challenging, but this is where it excels. Just when you think you are about to swear off the game forever, you figure out some little thing and it is so rewarding that you press on. The only thing the game lacks is any direction as to what does what. It is on the player to figure out everything which leads to a lot of trial and error. There was one point in the game where I played for a long stretch without even realizing I could manipulate the world in a new way.
Visually, Antichamber is presented somewhat simply, mostly white with thin black lines and the occasional swath of color, but this simplicity is also quite beautiful. It’s like playing inside an M.C. Escher painting. The style is unique and also allows for many of the visual illusions that contribute to some of the more challenging puzzles. The level design also plays into the Escher style as many of the rooms loop back on themselves while other rooms will change as you advance.
The visual style, combined with the sound creates a very immersive experience. I played on a large television with the lights off and was completely taken in by the sights and sounds of the world, which is exactly what Bruce and team were aiming to do. The game wants you to get lost in its wonder and pay attention to all your senses as you try and solve its mysteries. I found that the longer I played the game and the more attention I paid it, the more apparent the solutions became. It is a game to be experienced, not just played.
The uniqueness of Antichamber is everywhere, even in the game’s menu, which is presented on the back wall of the first room of the game. There is no title screen for Antichamber, as soon as you start it up, you are playing. Another quirk of the game are the many hand-drawn comics and phrases that are placed throughout the rooms. As you happen upon them, they offer hints, which tend to not be all that helpful, however every one you find is then added to a larger comic that is being built on another wall of the starting room. Like almost every aspect of Antichamber, it’s a clever take on a simple idea.
The only real drawback is that, much like the first Portal game, Antichamber is not a terribly long affair. There is a lot of potential for growth, but the core experience is short and doesn’t offer a lot in terms of replay. Sure, there are a few ways to approach each puzzle, but once you know the solution, it sort of loses the challenge. What’s there is absolutely fantastic, the problem (and the allure) is that I was left wanting more.
Antichamber is great game for anyone who loves a good puzzle and a fantastic experience for anyone who wants a mental challenge. The visuals and sound envelop the player and require you to really focus on everything around you. Nothing is to be taken for what it is at first glance and to make it to the end you will have to delve deep into the cleverest parts of your mind. If there was more to explore, I may never have left this interactive wonderland.The only question is do you have the brains to best the Antichamber?
Review copy supplied
Tested on PC