Post-Portal, puzzle games have been on the receiving end of a revitalization and evolution far past knock-outs like Tetris or Bejeweled. Now, any puzzle game worth its salt will confound and perplex its players with all sorts of physics or text-based amusements, but few will attempt non-Euclidean geometric riddles in an Escher-influenced pastiche of Confucian proverbs and “aha!” moments. This is Antichamber. A lot of puzzle games spend a good amount of time teaching players the rules, which, in some cases, might be its physics engine or a mechanic, but Antichamber’s tutorial is the game itself, almost to a fault. Concepts are taught but can just as easily be contradicted later on, which makes for unpredictable and engaging puzzles, but lead to a frustrating lack of coherence the deeper you get into the game, with trial and error being a more reliable technique than any mastery of the mechanics themselves. This isn’t to say that it was never satisfying to solve a puzzle. To the contrary, this made out of the box thinking that much more rewarding and each puzzle was, suffice to say, an achievement. Difficulty crescendos much like usual puzzle games do, though this is less because of complex environments, and more because of a wrench thrown into the already delicate machine of problem-solving the first set of rooms helps you build. It’s essentially a gun that can be used to manipulate and place blocks, though it looks less like a firearm and more like executive desk decor crossed with a Jedi starfighter. Unfortunately, as innocuous as it is during its introduction, the gun and puzzles centering around its use eventually supersedes most of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss” and “did I just see that?” strangeness that the first puzzles offer. The contradictory slant offered through the game’s puzzles extends to the its environments, but all the non-Euclidean geometry that make them up are particularly arresting. In fact, this is where the game shines more often than not. It’s difficult not to be impressed to discover whole rooms, Tardis-like in both proportion and placement, or to find that the hallway you were looking at through a window was never really there. The game’s stark white environments are broken up by splashes of neon for the sake of keeping the puzzles coherent and work to make a minimalist but sleek visual style. It is this kind of clever manipulation that gives the game any sort of tangible personality, outside of the cartoon hint panels placed strategically for frustrated players to click on in exasperation. Antichamber’s lack of any sort of plot, aside from your own perilous trek through its winding halls, leaves something to be desired, though admittedly, the game’s selection of “motivational” hints lends itself to any number of interpretations. The game sells itself as a game of “psychological exploration,” and just like your high school English teacher, I would be hard-pressed to say that the game was completely devoid of meaning. Antichamber disregards much of the tropes popular to puzzle games but more than makes up for it with its surreal visuals and downright unconventional puzzles. Its insistence on unconventional puzzles and solutions, as well as its fixation on giving game hints that double as vague life advice can get a little grating but shouldn’t stop anyone looking for a solid puzzle game.
- Excellent addition to the seldom visited “weird puzzle” category of video games
- Responds poorly to “brute force” puzzle solving and forces players to think outside the box
- Hints are a charming, if you ignore the fact that they channel “office desk calendar”
Available on: PC; Publisher: Demruth; Developer: Alexander Bruce; Players: 1; Released: January 31, 2013; ESRB: NA; MSRP: $19.99; Official Site