Developer: Alexander Bruce
Publisher: Alexander Bruce
Available on: Windows PC Only
Antichamber is a game that has done the rounds at the usual indie game events, shocking the world over with its use of physics, mind-bending psychology, colours and geometry. Now it’s finally time that the rest of the world gets their hands on the game developed by the one-man army of Alexander Bruce.
Antichamber lets you lose inside a maze filled with strange puzzles that will eventually allow you into the next room, where there’s probably yet more puzzles to mess with your brain. Messing with your brain is what the game does best, every time you think you’ve figured out what the game is about and how you’re supposed to be playing it, things get turned on their head and you’re left perplexed, amazing and just a little bit scared. If you like having your mind played with like a lump of play-doh; read on. If you don’t, read on anyway, we might just convince you otherwise.
GRAPHICS: Antichamber makes use of the Unreal 3 Engine, but you probably wouldn’t know that if it wasn’t for the massive logo as the game starts up, and the fact that you have to accept the Unreal Development Kit terms and conditions the first time you start the game. Alexander Bruce has twisted and shaped the U3 Engine that we all know and recognise into something that is absolutely out of this world. It’s not a game with photorealistic graphics, that’s not what I mean when I praise the visuals, what I mean is that the game is pure art. The cel-shaded corners of each wall lead you into a false sense of security, where you think you know where the end of a wall is, for example, only to discover that it’s really a pit leading to some other strange area of the maze. There are moments when you think you’ve seen it all only to come across a brand new room with something even more bizzare inside it. It’s not all good though, the bright colours and stark contrasts really do a number on your eyes. If you’re staring at the screen for as long as you have to for some of the puzzles you’ll soon feel the strain. Many games suggest that you take fifteen minute breaks every hour and we laugh it off as gamers, Antichamber is a game where that recommendation is almost mandatory.
SOUND: You’ll come across many different sounds as you’re playing Antichamber, some, if not most of them, will make absolutely no sense to you. There are times when you’ll heard birds chirping as you’re navigating a particularly difficult maze section, or hear waterfalls as you’re running around in circles like a headless chicken. If there’s one consistent thing about the audio it’s that it’s almost consistently soothing. There’s something calming about being given life lessons while you’re listening to the gentle trickling of a stream. I’m not going to pretend I know about the psychology of it all, perhaps it helps the messages sink into our game-playing minds, perhaps it’s just there to keep us calm and collected while the game is throwing increasingly difficult challenges our way, who knows.
GAMEPLAY: The gameplay in Antichamber is something that’s really quite hard to talk about as it changes throughout even a single hour of playtime. At its core it’s a first person puzzle game and while that may conjure up images of Portal, it’s certainly not that. For a start, Portal is a game that while it does have puzzle elements, it’s all about having the skill to complete the puzzle once you know how to do it. Antichamber is all about trying to figure out how to complete the puzzle. That doesn’t mean there’s less of a game there, it just means that the puzzles are going to require so much thought process to figure out that if you had to navigate the game once you’d figured out how to do it, your brain just might explode.
Antichamber will regularly ask you to do things that other games simply don’t. How many other games have you ever played that the solution to getting room comprising of a circle is to keep walking in circles until the world around you changes? Even in the first five minutes of the game there’s a puzzle where the solution is to go back the way you came and find that the whole world has changed without you even knowing it. That’s not the only time it happens either. All the way through the game there will be moments when you think you can’t go any further but all you need to do in order to progress is to look at things from a slightly different perspective; literally.
Even trying to define Antichamber in terms of time is pointless, each player could take a totally different way through the maze so that an hour to one person could be half an hour to another, or two hours to yet another person. I may have gotten one specific tool on my first playthrough where as another person may get another tool, or none. Everything about the game, from the moment you start it up to the moment that the 90 minute timer counts down to zero – there’s a surprise there by the way – the game is toying with everything you think it means to play a game. Everything you thought you knew about “game theory” may as well be thrown out of the window when you’re playing Antichamber, it doesn’t mean anything in this crazy world. Here, anything can happen. Here, anything will happen. As much as you think you’re in control of your actions, you’re not, you’re just here for the ride; and what a ride it is.
With all the the game does well, however, it’s not the type of game that you’re going to be picking up and playing for hours at a time. If you’re not “feeling it” and you can’t complete one of the puzzles then there’s a good chance that you could become hugely frustrated with the title. Some of the rooms are repetitive which, given that it’s a maze, is almost forgiveable, but some of them are just so similar that it causes nothing but headaches. A hint system wouldn’t have gone amiss either; some of the puzzles that you’ll come across are so convoluted that you’ve very little chance of finding the solution except by accident. It might have detracted from the flow of the game on the whole but it doesn’t have to be mandatory, and would have taken away the sting of not being able to solve a puzzle and being stuck staring at a closed door for hours on end.
LONGEVITY: How long Antichamber lasts you will really depends on how easy you find it to solve some of the more frustrating challenges. There will be times when you turn the game on and can’t quite get what a particular puzzle is asking you to do in order to overcome it, but then there are time when you just happen to be in the right frame of mind to be able to breeze through it without so much as a whimper. Antichamber is a game about being in the right mindset when you’re playing it and, in the respect, it has the potential of lasting a great deal of time indeed.
VERDICT: Saying that Antichamber is almost a metaphor for life is just about the most apt description I could give the game. There are times when you’ll adore it for all of its little quirks and nuances, and then there are times when you’ll absolutely hate those same little aspects. It will give you something one minute and then take it away from you in the next breath. All while giving you little life lessons that will teach you how to get through its twisting corridors a little bit easier. Antichamber, as a game, is difficult, and it doesn’t try to be anything other than that, but if you look past the gameplay element and look at what it’s really trying to say, you’ll get a lot more from it and you’ll find yourself coming back to it time and time again.