Just what the hell is it?
It is hard to explain Antichamber without actually demonstrating it in game, and even then the puzzles in this game take some serious getting used to. It was made by a single man, Alexander Bruce, which is an impressive feat given the mind bending challenges on offer. At first glance, you will probably be reminded of Portal. You run around a pristine, chamber-like environment in first person, and soon get a gun, which is used for puzzle solving rather than killing. You have probably not solved any like this before though, as Antichamber is a game which takes place in non-Euclidean space.
What this means, is that your perception of a situation can change based on your perspective. An easy example of this occurs in one of the rooms where there are some large, apparently transparent, cuboid display cases. Each side of the cube allows you to see inside it, showing three dimensional objects in the centre, but move around to the next face of the cube, and you will see something completely different. This leads to bizarre situations where you can often only solve a problem by coming at it from a certain angle. Antichamber, much like Portal, is very smart, and makes you feel very dumb until you figure out what it wants you to do.
Audio visual splendor
One of my favourite artists is M.C. Escher, and I was reminded of some of his works while playing, with never ending staircases and the like. The visual style is very clean and basic, but it uses striking colours to highlight points of interest while the rest of the walls, ceilings and floors are pure white. For the colour-blind amongst you, I am told that Antichamber works around this, despite using colours for many puzzles.
The sound design is equally stark, with silence filling many spaces, and haunting drones resonating through others. It can occasionally be quite chilling, as you walk through this strange place with no other life around, save for a floating black shape which moves around but is always seemingly out of reach. Someone must have made this place though, because scattered around the chambers are posters depicting simple sketch drawings, which can be clicked to reveal a cryptic message relating to the puzzles around them.
Humble origins, big aspirations
The game begins by showing you the exit. However, it is behind a wall of glass. You are in the antechamber of Antichamber, and on the other three walls are a map, the collection of posters you have seen so far, and the controls for the game, next to a giant digital clock counting down to zero. You can return to this room at any time by simply pressing the escape key. The game is fairly free form, and there are usually a few puzzles you can choose between at any one time. Sometimes you do not have the required tools to complete a puzzle, and will be forced to return to the antechamber. In fact the game purposefully puts you in an impossible situation early on, to teach you this mechanic. There is no tutorial beyond small hints which blend into the environment, you learn by doing, which is always the sign of a good puzzle game.
Your “gun” is used to manipulate small coloured blocks around the chambers. The first one you get simply allows you to pick up blocks, store them in the gun and then place them somewhere else. The blocks are used to fill in switches which will open doors, or can even be used to form a makeshift bridge across a gap. Later you will find upgrades for the gun, allowing you to fire a steady stream of blocks through smaller gaps, and eventually allowing you to drag groups of blocks around the environment. The way the gun controls is probably the weakest part of the game, as it is often fiddly and slightly inaccurate. It never takes more than a few seconds of your time when you have to replace a block, but it is frustrating nonetheless.
IQ is for Intelligence Questioned
It really does force you to think completely outside the box, and at times the puzzles are very abstract, but there is always some method to the madness. I commend Alexander Bruce for consistently coming up with puzzles that tested me throughout the game. From the first minute to the last, I always had to think hard about what I was doing. One moment that particularly stands out was when I was facing one of the hint posters, then turned around to be faced with a completely different place than where I had approached it from. I then turned back to the poster, which had been replaced by a door, all without me noticing. I cursed and had to walk away from the computer for a moment, but in a good way.
Antichamber impressed me from start to finish with the variety and complexity of its puzzles. I never felt like I had to repeat the same tasks over and over, and my mind was always being engaged. There is no greater feeling than when you finally figure out that puzzle you have been stuck on, and there are many moments in the game where this happens. There is barely a hint of a storyline, but the gameplay is intriguing and clever enough to keep you progressing regardless. It is certainly the smartest puzzle game since Portal was released, and it would be smart of you to try it out.
Incredibly clever and inventive puzzles, great sense of atmosphere with striking art design.
Inaccurate controls are frustrating at times, lack of a real storyline.