Making a good puzzle game can be tricky. To me, the most frustrating part of a puzzle game comes when I know the solution to the puzzle but have difficulty executing it. At least in my mind, the challenge in a puzzle game ought to be in figuring out the developer’s logic & finding a solution. It’s a question of intellect, not of skill. I’m reminded of my time in Limbo where the “puzzles” grew tedious because I kept dying. I truly believe we, as gamers, should make a distinction between puzzle & skill-based games. So which category does Antichamber fall in?
Antichamber is a indie puzzle game that puts the player in an M.C. Escher-style series of test chambers. The ultimate goal is to reach the exit, but in order to do so the player must solve various puzzles to bypass obstacles to find the resources that enables them to leave. As you play, you’ll find the world changing & warping around you. Indeed, one of the greatest tools at your disposal — and obstacles — is your own perception. But along the way, you’ll also acquire a gun that will allow you to move specific blocks around to help you reach your goal. Initially this gun only allows you to pick up & place blocks, but as you progress you’ll find upgrades that allow you to further bend the reality of the world around you.
At A Glance
Narrative: Anyone familiar with my formatting for these reviews may notice I skipped a section above where I normally give a summary of the plot. The reason for this is because… um… there isn’t really one. Or at the very least it’s heavily open to interpretation. Even after reaching the ending, I honestly don’t have any more idea what the story behind the game is, if there even is one. My general feeling after playing Antichamber was similar to being in a testing chamber, & finally escaping in the end. Though whether this was just some VR test or alien abduction, I can’t say. But I honestly don’t feel that the game’s too bad off for not having a rigid narrative. The stark, nonlinear feel of the “story” fits the overall atmosphere of the game very well. It’s all very hands-off. I think the point is to emphasize your experience with the game rather than following along some plot the developer intended. And in the end, that experience, & wanting to see what’s next & overcome the next obstacle, is enough to drive the player through the game til the end. Score: 3
Mechanics: One of the areas where Antichamber mechanically excels is in teaching the player its world-logic. You learn by doing. Very rarely does it flat-out tell you when you can do something. The only exceptions to that being when you first get the gun upgrades it will immediately present you with a practice obstacle & how you how to use the new upgrade. But other than that, you learn as you go. Even falling into a “trap” is a learning experience. And you’ll remember these skills. It’s very gratifying to come across a room you can’t solve, only to have a Eureka moment once you’ve learned a new bit of logic later in the game that you can apply. What may seem impassable may simply be a matter of not having the proper tool. For example, I mentioned in my First Impression having an idea while writing the post about a solution to a later room. In the room, there was a crate on one side of the room that would slide forward without something blocking it, raising a platform on the other side of a barricade that I needed to ride to exit the room. The obvious solution was to stand on the platform & remove the block from a distance, allowing the crate to slide & ride up. But the barrier prevented this. Once I acquired the yellow gun upgrade, allowing me to set blocks to move on their own (& drag any attached blocks with it), I thought to create a “fuse”, a long chain along the crate to set the string to move while giving me enough time to run to the platform before it rose without me. I was rather proud of myself for coming up with that. I also found that there may be multiple ways to overcome an obstacle. There isn’t really a right or wrong, but maybe just an easy and more convoluted way. Yeah, I could painstakingly move all these blocks around to trip the lasers. Or I could get the red gun upgrade & multiply the blocks to fill the entire area, reaching the same solution. There were more than a few times I realized I was thinking too hard about the solution. But I consider that a positive aspect of the game. Nothing ever felt impossible. Another much-appreciated mechanic was the ability to go back to the map room at any time & warp to any room you’ve uncovered. It makes it very easy to see where you haven’t gone & makes navigation painless. The only complaint I have as far as mechanics goes was with the jumping. I mentioned it before, but the jumping felt very floaty. And while there weren’t a lot of jumping puzzles, the ones that were there required more precision than the controls really allowed for. That was my only real frustration with the gameplay. Score: 5
Aesthetics: The level layout & design are simplistic & yet very mind-bending. The chambers themselves are pretty stark, punctuated by very intense bursts of color. Rooms change behind you or when you’re not looking, or sometimes when you’re looking at it just right. Chambers bend in & around each other, surprising you when you exit one chamber only to enter a chamber you’ve previously visited & know that wasn’t how you got to before. It all makes for a very surreal experience. The kind that makes you stop & go, “How did I get here?”. There’s no dialogue, but the omnipresent music has this ethereal quality that fits the atmosphere. The sound effects are pretty interesting, as well. Fall down a pit, & you hear the wind rushing past you. At one point, near what I assume is the bottom of facility, I heard crickets. However, at times the music would become this loud, continuous ringing noise that drove me crazy, even if I wasn’t wearing headphones. I don’t know if it was intentional or a bug, but I had to turn the sound off a few times. Sadly, there’s no separate option for music & sound effects, so I’d have to turn both off, which created a disconnected with my actions in the game. This was easily remedied by going back to the map room after I completed the level & turning the music back on, but it was enough of a nuisance that I felt the need to mention it. Score: 5
Replay Value: Low to Moderate. While I don’t feel the need to play it again, Antichamber definitely stands up to multiple attempts. For one, I didn’t find all the chambers, & there are apparently secret rooms to discover for those who enjoy it. Also, some people may enjoy the challenge of starting a new game & seeing how quickly they can reach the end, cutting out as many rooms as possible. Score: 3
Overall Score: 4
Final Word: Antichamber is a unique & engaging experience is mind-bending level design & puzzle solving.
Recommended for: fans of puzzle games, those who want to be challenged or are interested in unique level design
Not recommended for: gamers without patience
Developer: Alexander Bruce
Publisher: Demruth Release Date: January 31, 2013