Wednesday, September 29, 2021


While trying to create a multiplayer version of Snake in Unreal Engine 3, Alexander "Demruth" Bruce made a simple coding mistake that inspired him down a completely different direction. Years later, this direction manifested in 2013 as Antichamber, a first-person puzzle game that heavily involved non-Euclidian space and subtly incorporated philosophical ideas. While the game may not have the same amount of attention it once did eight years ago, it’s still an engaging, if very mind-bending, game.

Antichamber features no central narrative and instead focuses on motivating the player through gameplay. Players start out in a square hub room with a timer counting down from 90 minutes. Within the room are walls containing a diagetic menu with the controls, a blank wall that will gradually fill up with drawings, a map with one location and a clearly marked Exit door just out of reach. The game’s philosophical elements come from drawings the player will gradually encounter on the walls of rooms within an indeterminately large labyrinth, each one paired with a musing relevant to the situation or puzzle the player just encountered, many of which are also applicable to life in general. A further motivation comes from the presence of a mysterious black entity the player will occasionally see within the labyrinth, which eventually leads to a memorable conclusion left entirely to interpretation.

The entity is the only other living thing in the labyrinth.

Soon after the player first enters the labyrinth, they quickly go from what looks like a straightforward room to a series of continuously evolving and increasingly complex, mind-bending puzzles. Each individual room can shift within non-Euclidian space based entirely on how the player interacts with it or even take players to a new space entirely just from taking their eyes off a doorway. Some rooms can even trap the player in an infinite loop if they’re not careful. Fortunately, while the game feels complicated at first, there are consistent rules that players can use to their advantage once they get used to them. Should the player feel stuck or accidentally make advancing forward impossible, they can always press the Esc key and return to the central hub room, where they can then travel instantly to any other room they’ve already encountered (and even study the route they previously took).

About a quarter of the way through, after completing a certain perspective-based puzzle, the player obtains a gun that can manipulate colored cubes. Merely possessing the gun opens up new possibilities for previously unsolvable rooms and will gradually lead them to obtaining upgrades for the gun that not only change its color, but grant additional powerful abilities, like one that can create even more cubes. Though the last gun upgrade immediately trivializes many of the game’s other puzzles, escaping the labyrinth will test the player’s knowledge of what they’ve learned from previous puzzles and how well they can exploit the gun’s abilities. While the player can look up a walkthrough if they get stuck, solving the puzzles on their own feels much more satisfying and retains the mysterious aura of the great labyrinth.

Mastering the gun is essential for escaping the labyrinth.

While the game does a great job of guiding the player entirely through visual aids, including the occasional arrow nudging them in the right direction, it fails to properly explain specific abilities. One in particular, cube farming, does have its own demonstration as soon as it’s introduced, but doesn’t communicate the fact that players can use this power anywhere and not just specific surfaces.

Owing to the heavy emphasis on gameplay, Antichamber doesn’t feature complex graphics, largely rendering the environment through simple, blocky shapes. While that may not sound interesting, it does an effective job hiding all of the surprising shifts in space and color that players will encounter throughout the labyrinth, with the charming philosophical drawings serving as either helpful guideposts or a warning that you’ve gone too far. With a very minimal soundtrack, Antichamber also effectively uses ambient noise to keep players on their toes, wondering about or even momentarily dreading what might be right around the corner.

While not perfect in its execution of explaining its mechanics, Antichamber does have great pacing of its puzzles and a nice difficulty curve that rewards the player’s mastery of their abilities and recognition of the game’s rules. Even if you feel stuck, no room is ever too difficult to overcome and curiosity will only lead to greater reward. If you want a unique puzzle game that lasts just the right amount of time, consider playing Antichamber.

No comments:

Post a Comment