Solve brain-bending puzzles and explore a vivid digital landscape.
PC Release: January 31, 2013
By Ian Coppock
Originally I meant for this to come out on Saturday, but a stray kitten quite literally fell into my lap and I’m now sharing my abode with Midnight, my new baby. At first, I was a single man who loved horror games, but now that I’m a single man who owns a cat (and a black cat at that), my journey to creepy serial killer is complete.
And speaking of serial killing, Short Horror Week III has me worn out on horror games. It’s time to do a hard reset in terms of both written content and game design, so allow me to introduce Antichamber, a game that will have you physically and mentally exploring existence, life, love and all other that good shit.
Antichamber was introduced to me by my friend Bret, a gentleman to whom puzzle games are what horror games are to me: an obsession. He hooked me up with Portal, and now we’ve arrived a game that looks like tripping acid in cyberspace.
Antichamber belongs in that .001% of puzzle games that bill themselves as fresh and unique, and actually carry through on that marketing tagline. You start off in a giant room adorned with a single map, and it’s up to you to explore the entire Antichamber for… well, whatever you make of the game. It’s a first-person adventure behind the wheel of a silent protagonist.
The game is split up into dozens of separate chambers that rely on total brain-bendiness to solve. Each puzzle is prefaced by a quote that is both profound in its message and hinting as to the puzzle’s solution. In one instance I came upon a chamber marked with the words Sometimes Choice is Meaningless, and then preceded to two staircases that both wound up in the same place. Only by thinking about the quote did I realize I had to go back the way I came, and thus progress. Pretty cool, right? Lateral thinking is the name of the game in Antichamber.
The objective of the game is to solve the vast majority of Antichamber‘s puzzles. Working in cahoots with the game’s abstract level design is the cube gun, a device that can suck up and spit out little cubes that you’ll need to get past most chambers. Antichamber combines the abstract puzzle element with these obstacles, which will see you hopping walls and plugging in door switches to move to the next area.
While the combination of these elements is neato, I’m not sure how well game designer Alexander Bruce combined them. The two pieces have very little in common and as Antichamber goes on, it seems to strictly divide itself between cleverly worded illusion puzzles, like the staircase example, and cube puzzles relying almost purely on physical action, with no reliance on the quote. I personally thought the first element was a lot more original, but the cube puzzles are still fun. It just stood out jarringly from abstract theme the game was going for.
As to a larger plot and narrative, the game largely leaves that to you. The quotes tell no larger story, at least that I could see, but they did express a theme somewhere along the lines of “life is strange and amazing and sad sometimes”.
Which I think we can all get behind. Messages veer between uplifting and depressing, but their nuggets of truth will leave your brain with more than the actual game to grapple. They’re not pretentious… they contain elements of life wisdom that all of us can appreciate.
Antichamber‘s visual art is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a warm, fuzzy haze of bright colors and objects, constructed to form a cubic world that is vibrant but never garish.
Everything is decked out in thick outlines, almost like a graphic novel, and the textures are just as soft and personable as the colors. Most of the game is bathed in asylum-style white light, but this can vary from time to time. It’s an engrossing world to be in.
The game’s pacing leaves a lot to be desired. The first half or so of the game relies on lateral puzzles, while the latter half is made up of physical platforming puzzles that rely more on accuracy with a cube gun than wrapping your mind around a new way of thinking. Like I said up top, the physical puzzles are still fun, but they hardly stood out in comparison to the staircase examples.
Still, for what it sets out to do, Antichamber is a bold success laying claim to an unusual amount of creativity. Alexander Bruce crafted a soft world with some down-to-earth messages, and forces you to absorb the information in more ways than mere contemplation.
The lack of a narrative is supplanted by this wide, beautiful world, and the splendid sound design, awash with everything from ticking clocks to seabirds, is absolutely sublime. I’ve seen much worse first-person puzzle fair than Antichamber but not much better… and I’ve played a lot of really awesome puzzle games. This one is now my favorite.
If you like puzzle games, Antichamber is the breath of fresh air that the conundrum genre desperately needs. It comes wraps in the vestiges of platformer-puzzles that don’t truly challenge your brain, but the parts of the game that do make the entire experience more than worth it. You can pick this up on Steam for a few bucks. If you want a game that plays with your head and your heart at the same time, then I give Antichamber a full recommendation.
You can buy Antichamber here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.