Antichamber Review

4

To have a level outthink you is a strange occurrence.  It feels odd to have a game’s design deceive you, tricking you in ways that break conventions, but this is exactly what Antichamber does. It takes basic design principles and flips them on their heads. Things that you have taken for granted in gaming environments are questionable in Antichamber. The game is messing with you.

From the get-go, Antichamber does things differently. It plunks you down in a desolate box of a room, doing away with any main menu. The closest things you get to a menu are the room’s walls. They display the information that you need: game options and a map. The other two walls have an image of an undeveloped child, and an exit door behind unbreakable glass. A simple question lurks in your mind: how do I start? This is how the game begins, and it’s reflective of what the game has in store for you: many more questions and problems that need to be solved.

The map on the wall is the most crucial tool of all in Antichamber. You can use it to immediately travel to any room you’ve already been to, and you can return to the map room at any time.Its most handy feature is how it displays the exits of each room, how many you’ve found, and perhaps most importantly , how many you haven’t. When stuck, the map becomes a visual checklist of what needs to be solved, and it shows which rooms are hiding something.

You see, Antichamber isn’t a linear puzzle game; it never directs you from puzzle to puzzle. Exploration is left up to you, and the puzzles are nested in the world itself. Rooms have many exits, but they are rarely in clear sight. Usually hidden behind mind-games, these exits are your main goal. Finding them will eventually lead to uncovering the map, one room at a time, allowing you to unlock tools which are necessary to advance.

Unconventional brainstorming will usually lead to the completion of the game’s conundrums. When approaching problems, thinking outside of the box is the best solution. Many times, the game asks you to throw away your gaming habits, ones that have been reinforced over years, in order to proceed. Relying on your “gamerly” instincts will hardly help; rather, they will get you into trouble. This unconventionality is at the heart of Antichamber. It never feels like a stereotypical puzzler, but rather something strange and fresh; it’s this unpredictability that makes it so exciting and satisfying.

Abstraction is the narrative’s main attraction, devoid of story, but full of content ripe for interpretation. The corridors are littered with pictorial plaques coupled with inspirational quotes. These one-liners double as hints, and they do a great job at never giving away too much. To me, these quotes presented themselves as life lessons and the puzzles were there manifestations. They’re nice additions that add some context to your actions. At one point, I fell down a pit and was met by an image of a sheep jumping off a cliff, a smile on its face. Clicking on this image revealed text that read, “Failing to succeed does not mean failing to progress.” Messages like these not only relate to your current problem in the game, but they also resonate deeply with life itself.  Playing through the game results in collecting a plethora of pictorials, but beyond these, a story is non-existent; it’s up to the player to find meaning in them.

From a design standpoint, the game looks sleek.  Running on the Unreal 3 engine, the game presents itself stylishly and simply. Consisting of sharp, contrasting colors, and basic geometrical shapes, it draws you in with its abstraction. These visual qualities not only look pretty, but they actively lead you through Antichamber’s deviously clever world. It ends up provoking a strong wanderlust, as bright colors and strange objects lead you from room to room. It almost feels as if you’re exploring an art gallery, lost in a labyrinth of white rooms and colorful displays. These concepts never detract from the puzzles; it’s great to see that the developers didn’t rely on a traditional look, but rather a simplistic setting. It doesn’t complicate matters, and it helps the puzzles take the forefront.

Audio design is another one of Antichamber’s strengths. Distant sounds go hand in hand with the game’s modest design, adding just enough to the atmosphere to grab your attention. Just like the visual setting, the audio palate doesn’t rely on an abundance of material; rather, it relies on subtle audio cues to set the mood. A distant croak of an unseen frog, twittering of birds, and an ominous tick-tock of a clock are all examples that not only add to the scenery, but also remind the player of where they are in the labyrinth; either that you’re where you want to be, or that you’ve been walking in circles. It’s simple but effective.

Antichamber does an amazing job at combating your gaming instincts, and challenging you in abnormal ways.  Absurd solutions that go against the fiber of a gamer’s being are what make the experience so special. The brain teasers are only strengthened by the game’s setting; it gives them room to breathe. But the truly great thing about Antichamber is how unique it feels. Games that not only do something new, but also go against all gaming conventions are rare. It engages you in ways that have never been done before, leaving you with an experience riddled with ingenious design, an experience that feels as if it’s teaching you lessons. All these aspects create a game that feels alive. You can’t help but have the inkling that Antichamber is playing you, as much as you’re playing it. It’s nothing short of surreal, and it’s definitely something special.

Antichamber is now available on Steam for Windows.

  • http://videlais.com/ Dan Cox

    One of things I found most fascinating about Antichamber was the very end game. Once you have unlocked the fifth gun, the linearity becomes very apparent as the game quickly pushes you from one puzzle to the next as you climb the tower. However, as it does this, it also opens up all the various dead ends too.

    As I quickly learned while drawing shapes on the walls with the red gun, you can, in fact, crash the game quite easily. And, while many passage are connected to each other in interesting ways, there are several parts, including the “Under Construction” door, that lead nowhere or abruptly stop. Exploring the far extremes of the game left me feeling as if it was still a work in progress.

    Which is not to write that I didn’t like it. I /loved/ it. It consumed my entire weekend a couple weeks ago while I tried to explore every nook and cranny. I logged 15 hours of playing within a 48 hour window.

    However, while I was with you at first in the messages and even game itself resonating with me, I’ve been soured slightly by learning that the developer plans to add content and connections to the game later. Like, for example, the pink blocks that move while you are looking at them don’t actually do anything at the moment other than that moving. Alexander Bruce has said he will probably add content that will add a purpose to finding them all — many of which are devilishly hidden below, above, and even around various other passages.

    • http://twitter.com/Notcrucial Jarrett P.

      Yeah, I didn’t mind the final linear push at the end. I
      found it to be a gauntlet that truly tests your knowledge of the game up until
      that point. It was nice to have some direction in the game’s final moments.

      I didn’t run into any crashes, but I really wasn’t trying to
      push the game’s limits. I saw the goal, and I pursued it. I probably won’t go
      back to it once they add more content. I was really comfortable with the games
      tricks by the end, and I think the length of it was perfect. The longer a game
      like this is, the harder it is to surprise the player. I doubt I’ll return to
      it, even if they update it.

      The more I think about it, I’m realizing that the strongest
      point of the game was when you didn’t have the matter gun at all. I think they’d
      really need to reach to have the game surprise me like it did when I first
      booted it up.

      All this being said, I still think the game’s strongest aspects
      are the puzzles themselves, which are truly ingenious.