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Antichamber Review

Posted by Cha Holland On Saturday 2 February 2013Comments Off

Available on PC l Published by Demruth l Developed by Alexander Bruce l Unclassified l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > Antichamber is a well-crafted, unique spatial puzzler only slightly let down by unnecessary attempts at profound life lessons. It provides intriguing impossible spaces and new physical laws to unravel. This is necessarily brain twisting, but it’s presented in such a clean and friendly way it encourages players to experiment and not get too disheartened if the solution isn’t immediately obvious.

REVIEW IN FULL > Non-Euclidian tourism never really took off, possibly due to splitting headaches and the risk of running into Cthulhu around every nonsensical corner. Apparently Melbourne-based game developer Alexander Bruce never got the memo though.  His first-person puzzle platformer Antichamber invites you to explore its exotic geometries and relearn what you know about how space operates. All without the slightest hint of trans-dimensional horrors.

The first time you encounter something unfamiliar that couldn’t exist in the real world it might be jarring, but there’s consistent internal logic that will be normalised with a little experience.

Indeed, Antichamber presents an exceptionally neat and contained area to investigate, if one with its own distinct logic. It’s visually striking, formed from simple lines and predominantly white walls with occasional flat splashes of colour.  The overall effect is slightly sterile and hard on the eyes, but provides all the necessary information without distracting ornamentation. It’s softened somewhat by the ambient sounds, which are easy to forget but subtly help to keep everything feeling calm.

And that’s one of Antichamber’s greatest achievements: setting up unrealistic environments but making them more welcoming than disorienting. It’s inviting experimentation and perseverance, not trying to frustrate. Not that there aren’t plenty of confusing sections to muddle through.

Spaces that rearrange or double back on themselves or portals to somewhere else, are often unsettling and well suited to horror, but Antichamber avoids that vibe entirely. The first time you encounter something unfamiliar that couldn’t exist in the real world it might be jarring, but there’s consistent internal logic that will be normalised with a little experience. There is very little tutorialising, with the rooms and corridors themselves acting as teacher.  It’s refreshing when games trust your intelligence and curiosity, and it’s all the more important to keep mental challenges feeling satisfying.

Antichamber includes signs to discover throughout its rooms, each with a short message and cartoon drawing. Most of these are encountered after finding a solution, providing context for these challenges rather than hints. They are a lightly philosophical look at life’s ups and downs, but don’t connect meaningfully. The messages range from cheap encouragement, to idealistic, to blindingly obvious. Some read like the kinds of things told to you as a child to get you to apply yourself, but you grow out of believing them unless you lead an excessively charmed life. Antichamber’s mind-bending world can easily stand alone without trying to connect to our physical reality, but if it’s going to take that route it could at least scratch deeper than simple platitudes.

Abstract puzzle games are easy to make accessible to people with different outlooks, so encountering false one-size-fits-all ideas is disappointing.

The pictures chosen to accompany these trite aphorisms suggest a stereotypical view of life not everyone will relate to. Romance (with a member of the opposite sex); making responsible choices to settle down and marry; having children.  Abstract puzzle games are easy to make equally accessible to people with many different outlooks and lifestyles, so encountering these false one-size-fits-all ideas is disappointing.

Thankfully the environments and problem solving are always the centre of attention, and these other elements are only a minor detraction.  It’s best not to say too much more about how Antichamber operates though, it’s really something best discovered for yourself.  Suffice to say, there are plenty of tricks to discover and some new abilities to collect.

Movement is as smooth and effortless as possible, for a tricky set of logical and unusual spatial problems. It is possible to mess up and get stuck, but it’s simple to jump back to the start by pressing the Escape key. A map on the wall here shows regions with unexplored pathways and lets you teleport directly to any previously visited node.

There has obviously been a lot of love poured into this creation, and time taken to refine it until everything feels right and fits together. Antichamber’s well worth a playthrough for anyone who enjoys puzzles and exploration, and is a rare example of something quite original and surprising.

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