Every once in a while, an indie game developer comes around, leaves us a lovely little puzzle-adventure game on our doorsteps, and hides in the bushes to watch our reactions. The best games in this genre leave us with a comfortable blend of wonder and anguish. If that’s exactly what you have been itching for lately, a certain new title may just be the solution. Alexander Bruce brings us Antichamber, a brand new contender in the genre, a game that defies the laws of physics, the conservation of mass, and sometimes life itself.
Pretend you have just gone to your bathroom. Everything was perfectly normal on the way in and just the same when you walk out. Antichamber takes this idea and stabs it to death. You are in the Antichamber. You play by its rules. What you know is not and what once was is no longer. This entire realm is an enigma in itself and it is up to you to navigate it, armed with a gun that can create, control, or destroy solid matter in the form of different colored cubes. Presumably, your objective is to reach the exit, which you can practically touch from the beginning of the game, but there is no way to get through it. Not yet, at least. But hopefully someday you will, if you’re just that awesome.
While it may appear like a maze, it is often far from it as there are no dead ends. Hallways and stairwells will always lead you somewhere you’ve either visited before or someplace completely unexpected. There are a good number of surprises lurking on the map, below you, above you, around the corner, any which way. Plaques serve as your checkpoints, which also feature a small illustration showing the story of a life from birth, together with profound little quotes that can serve as both a hint in the game or in your own life. They may even get pretty personal with some people, depending on their own experiences and how you choose to interpret them, although they don’t bring any explicit narrative to the game itself. The best part about these though is how most of them are very encouraging, practically telling you “I know you can do it,” even when the solution to the problem in front of you seems completely impossible. Most of the time, you’ll even solve it with a little more perseverance with solutions ranging from the completely obvious to the insane, but plausible.
Seldom will you merely stumble upon the answer, thus you will usually get the gratification of smirking like an idiot after you’ve solved a puzzle by thinking outside the box like a good little boy and/or girl. There is some trial-and-error to these puzzles, but the game allows you to go to the map/hub at any time and instantly transport you to any room or hall you have visited before. This removes a lot of the tedium of backtracking, which would be impossible, or just a terrible chore, anyway as turning around to head the way you came from will often take you somewhere else entirely.
At the start of the game, in the hub, you can see a timer for roughly an hour and 45 minutes. I presume this is a time to try and beat the game under, but I sure as hell can’t do it. I have easily clocked in 10 hours consistently finding new places and secrets. It’s hard to tell, but this game is huge. Sure, there is plenty to discover, but that doesn’t make any of it easy, even with the hint plaques, which might not appeal to some of the less patient players. Like a tricky game of Sudoku, if you ever get severely stuck, sometimes the best thing to do is just stop playing for an hour or two, take a breather, and come back in hopes of finding an alternate solution quicker than you would have expected.
In terms of controls, everything works very smoothly, moving with WASD and interacting with the mouse like your standard first-person game. All the mechanics in place feel fine, even amongst the subtle lunacy occurring around you. Everything in the game is cel-shaded with very vivid lighting that creates some beautiful color efforts reflecting off of your gun. Conversely, all the blank walls can make navigation that much more disorienting, but you won’t usually have trouble knowing which way you’re facing with some sort of landmark in the room always in sight. Sounds also play a very big role in creating the ambiance of the whole place. You might hear noises from wind blowing through trees, a swamp at night, or waves crashing ashore depending on where you are. It’s a strange feeling to hear the waves and even splashing footsteps with every step and jump, with only pale walls and colors surrounding you.
From the screenshots, you may be a little confused as to why it runs on the Unreal graphics engine, but it makes more sense with a lot of the particle and mechanical effects that you will encounter. Geometric shapes play a huge role in the environment, but the fluidity of its motions and number of things that can be rendered at once make excellent use of the engine. The map itself, making clever usage of Euclidean planes, is probably very sophisticated as well to be able to mix around so seamlessly.
There aren’t any other modes other than the primary campaign, but you really don’t need anything else with so many things to uncover already. It’s easy to get lost in the world of Antichamber, however the game does an excellent job of allowing you to track your progress on the map, making it difficult to get actually lost in the labyrinth.
Several mental breakdowns in, I was still able to be immersed in the world with an urge to continue and get through that simple door that can only lead to a plethora of places that knows no bounds of the human imagination. Whenever I got severely stuck, I would just go to another room diving deeper, uncovering upgrades to my What-gun, as I have named it, and finding new locations that were either previously inaccessible because of my equipment or lack of imagination.
Against all brain-paining odds, as a whole, it’s a very fun package worth the $19.99 price tag, although it could cost less. If this is any indication of Alexander Bruce’s talent as a video game developer, I’m very excited for his future work. Nevertheless, for those who are into puzzle-adventure games like Portal or any game that rends your mind to shreds and hands it back to you with a bow of pensiveness, this is probably the game for you.
[+ Challenging and creative puzzles] [+ Subtle and suspenseful environments go a long way] [+ Plenty of fun surprises] [+ Solid and responsive controls] [+ Strange, but excellent, use of Unreal engine] [- No explicit narrative] [- Difficulty can turn off less patient players]
As a special promotion, you can get Antichamber for $14.99 on Steam until February 6th!