Antichamber is something I only recently caught wind of, which is pretty damn surprising consider the amount of awards it has been nominated for and even won. Seriously, head over to the official website and check out the awards listed at the top it’s absolutely insane and has won awards as far back as 2009. Well it was recently released on Steam and we were lucky enough to get a copy from creator Alexander Bruce.
The game is an experimental and “psychological” first-person puzzle game in which you, the silent and unknown protagonist must traverse a series of increasingly complex and mind bending puzzles to finish the game. The game itself doesn’t really give much more away than that and indeed there is absolutely no story (or at least, not one I picked up on) and so essentially it leaves you in a large, completely seamless map with a mind-boggling array of puzzles and says “well, there you go. Have at it!”
The look of the game is a highly stylised Madworld sort of thing. No shading or tones but sharp black outlines to denote where edges are and completely white walls and what I termed the “puzzle-gun”. This isn’t entirely true though because there are sections with colour, with bright psychedelic shades on glowing from every wall, there are sections with floaty-cloud particles (which act like the disintegration fields from Portal) and rooms where there is indeed shading and tone. While the colour pallet and theme of the game varies from room to room it does always stick with the simplistic and dream-like feel. It’s what I imagine it would be like walking through a scientific laboratory would be like if you were off your tits on acid. Despite it’s heavily simplistic look I have to say that I really quite liked the graphics and aesthetic of Antichamber, it was trippy but it was cool.
The puzzles are also incredibly psychedelic and zany. Some involve using the puzzle-gun you get a short way into the game to position, reposition, drag and expand blocks of colour. Some of these blocks might be in the forms of walls to be taken away, sometimes they have to be positioned to cut off lasers which when activated open or close doors, sometimes they are simply used to block the doors. But it doesn’t stop there, there are puzzles which don’t involve the puzzle gun at all. For example there are floors which disappear when you jump, but only appear for a short distance ahead when you walk. There are doors which only open when you are not looking at them and indeed there are even walls which you can walk through. Suffice to say when it comes to the puzzles there was a mind-boggling variety and as you advance they become more and more challenging.
Beyond this there isn’t very much to say about the game, as I say there isn’t really any story or goal other than “complete the puzzles because PUZZLES!” A few of the other things that seem worth mentioning as stand out features of the game is that it uses one of those interactive menu systems where you are in character in the menu and you walk around and the options come in the form of various buttons on the walls. It’s not something I want every game to do but I do always quite like it when I see it. The other thing is that it is really completely seamless, transition from the menu into the game itself is pretty much instantaneous and there wasn’t a single loading screen throughout the whole game as you can traverse the whole map easily, which is quite nice.
Finally, and this is definitely worth mentioning, is that fact that the game costs £14.99 (or whatever the local equivalent) on Steam but it took me what I believe was approximately 6 hours to complete it. Also, as a puzzle game with no leaderboards, additional challenges or choices there is pretty much no replay value. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind then that it seems that you won’t be getting very much play time for you money. Of course this does depend on how fast you can solve the puzzles, but I am by no means a genius and so I wouldn’t be surprised if some people could complete it a hell of a lot faster.
Now I’ve been trying to get most of my clearest thoughts about the game out onto this review before I actually got down to one of the most important parts of the game. You might have noticed I’ve been throwing a lot of words like “psychedelic”, “zany” and “trippy” around like drugs were going out of fashion. Well that’s because of the overall theme of the game. While it is a “puzzle game” it is also described as experimental and in an interview the developer did say that they were trying to challenge the pre-conceived notions of what a puzzle game should be.
And this brings us back to the reasons behind the crazy challenges and interesting aesthetic of the game. You see, in most puzzle games you go through the puzzles learning how to do them. For example in Portal you learn “Oh, buttons open doors” and so from that point on it becomes a game of putting the box on the button. While there is a degree of this in Antichamber, for the majority of the time each puzzle is unique, individual and is designed to make the gamer have to think about it, rather than go through a set series of motions. A phrase which stood out in the reviews of this game was that it is designed to take gamers out of their comfort zone, and to a fairly great extent it did indeed manage that.
If I were to describe what this game most feels like, it would be the feeling of being a in a dream. A fairly drugged up dream admittedly, but a dream nonetheless. Every room is interconnected with drops and corridors leading you back to rooms you have already been in, despite them being on the other side of the map. Turning around in these situations often reveals that the path you just walked along has changed into something else and so there is no going back.
It’s a game where you are constantly having to think and observe and it is really just quite excellent. In the same interview I mentioned above the developer mentioned that people who played first person shooters seemed to do worse than those who had never played many games before because of their preconceived notions of how a game and puzzler should work while the non-gamers would just approach each section as it came.
It’s a completely unique style which I have to admit on more than one occasion did lead to some severe headsplosions and confusion as I would get stuck in sections with no obvious solution until I worked out the tiny little thing I had been missing. And I do mean unique, I don’t think I’ve ever played another puzzle game like it. I’ve played puzzlers with unique and awesome mechanics (for example the student designed Void, QUBE and Vicinity: Warp Reality) but they all seem to follow certain patterns. Antichamber is something genuinely new and impressive and I have to admit that I liked it a lot.
It’s dreamy, it’s trippy and it will constantly make you think. And then when you think it will tell you “no that’s not right silly… What would a drugged up person do?” And so you progress through it’s insane and excellent puzzles. This is why I think, despite the fact that it is an extremely limited and small game it is definitely worth going out of your way to try out.