While a paltry number of games dabble with non-Euclidian spaces- 2007’s Echochrome comes to mind- Alexander Bruce’s Antichamber embraces it like none other. The result is that the first couple of hours of Anitchamber are easily some of the best you’ll experience in a game all year. It’s hard to fully express the thrill I felt in exploring a game where the very space itself is the attraction. Hallways turn back into themselves. Stairways lead me down into the very floor I stepped onto those stairs. Passages appear and disappear under my feet. Combined with the game’s wonderfully striking visual aesthetic of white, geometric spaces outlined in black and punctuated every so often with vibrant colors, Antichamber does things I’ve never seen in a game- and this is speaking from over two decades of gaming. Since words fail to thoroughly describe the intensely visual and spatial experience of the game, watch the official trailer for it:
The initial hours of Antichamber focus on the space of the world in a way that few games do. Players start out in what feels like a sterile observation room where the game’s system settings exist as embedded panels on the wall. With instructions on how to move placed there as well, players are then prompted to click on map on another wall that immediately teleports them to a room and start their strange journey. Aside from moving and jumping though, no other verbs are given to the player; they’re tasked to explore the environment and that’s it. I had a wonderful time just exploring the twisting hallways, learning how they open and close and letting myself just exist in them.
I’m attracted to games where players aren’t always set up as powerful actors, and while Antichamber’s introductory rooms do make the player an actor, the actions and consequent effects aren’t quite clear. The rooms in Antichamber are puzzles, but only in a loose sense where the solution is exiting a room. There’s an enigma to hallways and doors that I was caught up in. It’s not that Antichamber is illogical; there is in fact a set rules there to discover. It’s just that their discovery is subtle and wonderful. Part of that discovery is done through black, square posters with line drawings that- when clicked on- reveal text and are littered throughout the game. Sometimes they’re placed before or after a room’s puzzle and almost each time I ran into one, they reframed what I thought about my actions. Everything I experienced in those first rooms was awe-inspiring. I’ll emphasize again that they were like nothing I’ve ever experienced in a game before but exactly what I’ve always wanted; but then it stops.
Or slopes down, rather. It started around the time I was handed a gun-like weapon that fired tiny cubes. At first, the cubes were used in neat ways to affect the environment, but were merely secondary tools that served exploration. As the game progresses though, the game’s focus and interactions change. The puzzles move from abstract space exploration and shift to how the player can manipulate blocks. Blocks of different colors need corresponding guns, and thus the game gains a Metroidvania quality where the goal becomes getting new equipment to move forward instead of observing the rules of a room to move forward. Consequently the joy of exploring dissipates and becomes route as I returned over and over to rooms trying to figure out where that puzzle I swore I saw somewhere around there was.
To be fair to Antichamber, the cube puzzles aren’t bad. In fact, there are some neat ways in which the game teaches players how to use the cubes in ways they hadn’t realized. It points out the manner in which the cubes behave- which are already occuring- but players just need a bit of a nudge to notice it. It’s just that those block puzzles are nowhere near as fascinating and innovative as Anitchamber’s initial experience though.
To be frank, Antichamber is game every video game player needs to get their hands on. I would just suggest that if you have the luxury of doing so, to take your hands off once you find yourself moving cubes instead of moving space. It’s a game that demands to be played because it taps into a spatial potential of gaming that is rarely explored- it’s just unfortunate that the game doesn’t live up to its own potential.
+ Great visual aesthetic
+ Non-Euclidian spaces- need I say more?
+ Initial hours are amazing…
-… but the game slowly turns into just a puzzler
Antichamber was developed by Alexander Bruce and published by Demruth. It was released on January 31st, 2013 on PC for $19.99. A copy of the game was provided to RipTen for the purposes of review.