I look at puzzle games the same way I look at a good mystery or thriller movie; sometimes it’s good to take a break from action/adventure & enjoy a more measured, thought-provoking experience. Sometimes I enjoy a game where there’s no one to fight. Where my greatest enemy is my own incompetence.
It’s been a while since I played just an outright puzzle game. Not counting the odd flash game I played when it was slow at work, probably the last full puzzle game I played was Portal. And that’s a fitting example to pull comparisons from because Antichamber does have a bit of a Portal vibe. I think a large part of that comparison stems from the various guns I’ve been collecting in Antichamber. But instead of creating portals to solve puzzles & overcome obstacles, these guns give me various abilities to move colored blocks around to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles.
The best words I can think to describe Antichamber are “stark”, “nonlinear,” & “Escher-ist”. These words describe not only the visual style of the game, but the gameplay as well.
I’m not sure if there’s an actual narrative aside from just giving me the objective of working toward an exit. There’s no dialogue, aside from signs you find scattered about. But these signs just give philosophical clues about the puzzle I’ve just completed. I’m not sure if this is part of some sort of test or if it’s just something to be experienced & enjoyed on its own merits.
Everything about the game, from the levels’ layout, to the puzzle solutions, & even the graphics, has this mind-bending quality to it. Nothing is as it seems, & it enjoys playing with the player’s assumptions. For example, one of the earliest levels confronts the player with a chasm, above which floats the word “Walk?”. If you actually just walk across the gap, you’ll discover a floor appears beneath you, allowing you to cross the gap easily. However, if you’re like me, you’ll jump & fall down to another level, which helpfully reminds you that there’s no wrong path, just different ones. But later, I encountered a similar gap with “Fly?” hovering above it. And walking over that doesn’t make the floor appear. It’s also trippy how the rooms connect together in unexpected ways. It definitely plays with your perceptions, adding to the surreal quality that saturates the game.
I think the strongest point for the game so far is its structure. A good puzzle game always has rules for the player to piece together to overcome an obstacle. Antichamber is very good at teaching you its rules as you progress naturally. As you learn about different things you can do in the game, you’ll frequently have moments where you go, “Ah-ha! I bet I can do this to get past the room I was stuck in before!” It’s very difficult to get completely stuck. If you can’t get past one room, you can always return to another to try a different path or solution. To that end, I greatly appreciate the map room, which you can return to at any time by hitting ESC & can warp to any room instantly. This helps avoid frustration, because I’ve never felt completely stuck. I just assume I’m not thinking about the puzzle correctly or I haven’t gotten the gun upgrade I need to progress. In fact, as I was writing this, I think I may have come up with a solution for another room I hadn’t solved now that I’ve gotten the third gun upgrade. I don’t even think you always have to have to correct solution sometimes, because I know I’ve gotten places I shouldn’t have been able to access yet without the proper upgrade. I know because I returned to the room later & realized the new upgrade made getting through so much easier. But I consider that a plus for the game.
The only real complaint I have so far is that the jumping feels very floaty. Antichamber isn’t a platformer, but there are a few jumping puzzles, which I’ve found to be the most annoying of the puzzles so far. I can only do bunny hops, but I’m apparently a champion long-jumper. It makes the precision required more difficult than I think was intended.
I don’t know exactly how long this game will last, though I imagine that greatly depends on my own intellect. However, I’ve collected three out of the four gun upgrades, so I estimate I’m roughly 75% through. Let’s hope it’s all worth it in the end. Though if it’s just about the journey & not the destination, I think I’d be okay with that.