Antichamber gives you no premise or story when you start the game and none is given as you play which explains Alexander Bruce’s Escher inspired level design, or the gameplay which follows a twisted logic of its own. Any sort of story line is either made from the actions you preform or derived from the “self help” quotes given after each puzzle. For example, after falling down a pit – which is easy to fall down without a specific bit of information – you’re greeted with “failing to succeed does not mean failing to progress”. Often the quotes would frustrate me rather than make me lapse into thoughtfulness, many of these quotes would give a hint to the puzzle you have already solved which is irritating when you have spent 20 minutes on a puzzle where a hint would have really helped. This is a massive missed opportunity for Antichamber as any sort of context for the world, rather than random quotes, would help give reason and drive to carry on exploring. Exploration is a fantastic thing to base a game on so long as there is something to explore into.
If each concept this game tries to present to you is looked at individually, they are fairly impressive. The art style is simple with bright primary colours outlining each object of interest, plain walls and straight corridors give a clean and clinical feeling which permeates throughout the whole game, very similar to Portal in style but in a more abstract way. A great majority of the game is presented more as an art gallery, with each visual puzzle or location defined by a particular architectural design or sculpture. With each location having a defining feature, navigating the Escher paintings becomes less daunting than it would seem. However the abstract nature of the level design still gives a feeling of unease; at no point playing Antichamber will you know what to expect next.
Contradicting the clinical and abstract art style, Antichamber’s sound design is incredibly fluid and colourful. Often noises inspired by nature begin emanating from the walls with no obvious reason, other than to provide ambient sounds for the environment the player is in. For example there is a certain section of the maze where you can get stuck and have to return to the start, in this area you hear seagulls and waves as if trapped on a desert island, or falling down a large hole you will hear lighting strike and thunder clap giving a feeling of speed and suddenness. This sound design connects the player to a wide range of sensations that would normal be deliver through visual cues rather than audio ones, I personally would love to see this explored more than it is throughout the game.
The main meat of Antichamber is the puzzles. Presented to you often as little lasers that need to be cut off or a block that needs to be removed in a certain way to open a door. They are of the exact right difficultly I felt and this is really where the game shines. Spending 10-20 minutes only to figure the answer out using a mechanic you just learned yourself is a fantastic feeling. The mechanics of the game can be puzzles themselves, other than a list of movement instructions at the start of the game there are no tutorials to introduce features instead when a new mechanic is unlocked there will be a puzzle that will lead you in the direction of discovering the new mechanic yourself. This does however have the significant problem of the player completely failing to understand how to play, so when a puzzle required a certain nuance of a mechanic to complete, expect frustration. Thankfully this does not come up too much but at times it did stick out very clearly in my mind as the worst part in Antichamber. An interesting side note about this way of teaching mechanics is that it allows for many different solutions to puzzles without any one being immediately obvious, after talking to a friend about Antichamber I discovered he had used some of the more basic mechanics in way I had never thought of to complete puzzles in a much more efficient way, I don’t think this would have been possible if the mechanics were introduced in a more traditional way where these methods would have probably been explained immediately. This combination of puzzles not explaining but rather showing mechanics and the perfect difficulty level lead to a game that provides huge a grand sense of accomplishment in what is a rather short game; I managed to finish the whole game within 5 hours. It’s worth noting that during these 5 hours I did not encounter a single bug, crash or graphical glitch that would hamper your enjoyment of the game.
All Antichamber manages to be an extremely well polished block puzzle game that has tried to ascended its naturally simple concept like Valves Portal series, but just fails to cross the line in that respect. The “self help” lines I think were supposed to be more evocative part of this game but other than having slight connections to nearby puzzles they don’t affect an overarching narrative and only act as a collection of placards. Some theme or narrative direction to act as a starting point for the player’s imagination could make what was a well designed but bland universe into an experience that could rival other puzzle games of this nature. Another slight issue is that you can only have one save file without changing around files in the game directory; there were a few points where I wish I could have redone a section or replayed the start without losing all of my current progress.
Antichamber is a good game, but lacks further depth or progression. If you enjoy puzzles with interesting level design and style then this is going to be right up your road. You’ll find many new mechanics that you have not seen before and through this puzzles that are perfectly balanced filled with several “ah-HA” moments. For fifteen pounds a 5 hour experience could be considered quite expensive, but its considerably enjoyable with little reason to dislike means it’s still worth picking up.
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