Posted: November 17, 2014
Antichamber is easy to dismiss as a Portal clone at first glance; it is a first person puzzle game wherein you move from chamber to chamber, equipped with a puzzle “gun” which interacts with your environment. But while Portal deals mostly in learning the rules of its mechanics and then adding complexity to those mechanics, Antichamber is a game which aims to subvert your expectations about how a puzzle should fundamentally work. It makes you question the unspoken rules that video games abide by. Frequently, it is simply brilliant and mind blowing, though occasionally it’s too obscure or random for its own good (especially in later parts of the game).
There’s no real story to speak of in Antichamber, but the entire experience is expertly accented in a very sterile atmosphere and minimal graphics. Sound design is also minimal, but well done. Certain audio cues can give you hints to where you are in the world, and the simple tick-tock of a clock can become a fixture of an entire portion of the game. It’s definitely a polished game which looks and feels nice.
Of course, the real meat of Antichamber is the puzzles, and it’s hard to say much about them without revealing part of what makes this game special. Suffice it to say that it is one of the most unique and creative games that I have ever played. Environments are frequently non-Euclidean in nature, and rely heavily on perspective or understanding the rules of the universe which Antichamber itself has defined.
There is inherent difficulty in designing that kind of puzzle; if you don’t abide necessarily by the rules of physics or perspective that we’ve come to rely on, puzzles can have arbitrarily hard solutions. For the most part, especially in early parts of the game, Antichamber does an excellent job of staying consistent and teaching you the ways of its mind-melting world.
But in the later hours, you are bound to run into situations where a puzzle solution will feel almost entirely arbitrary. Frustration will set in, and occasionally solutions don’t have the satisfying payoff they were designed for. There was one instance where I resorted to some online hints because, it turns out, I had completed an earlier puzzle in a non-traditional way and didn’t have the resources the game expected me to have. It took quite a bit of digging before finally understanding how I was supposed
to complete the prior puzzle so I could complete the current one.
One very smart addition to curb some of this difficulty is the ability to, at any point, press escape and jump out to the central hub of the world. From there, you can see your progress and also a map of the entire area you have so-far discovered. You can jump in to any area you’ve previously visited, and I found it helpful to jump from puzzle to puzzle I didn’t know how to solve. Typically inspiration would strike somewhere, and my frustrations would yield relatively quickly.
Overall, Antichamber is a smart, mostly incredible puzzle game. Moments of frustration are almost inevitable here, and for the most part the balance is hit just right so that frustration results in joyous satisfaction when you make progress. It occasionally missteps and frustration just leads to greater frustration, but it’s easy to forgive when so much of the game is so good. Highly recommended.