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Antichamber (PC) artwork

Antichamber (PC) review


"An austere and at times quite cold experience, Antichamber is one of the critically acclaimed indie darlings that have become oh so common in recent years. But is it actually good? Please read on to discover my two cents."


Antichamber

Over the last 5 years or so an interesting shift has been occurring in the video game world. Independent video game designers have become significantly more prominent, helped by the fact that many indie games are developed by one person. Alongside this some of the most interesting, thought provoking and let's face it fun games are the games NOT being developed by the various subsidiaries of the big AAA publishers. They don't always have the polish or the scale of the likes of Fallout or Mass Effect, but nobody can deny that they have style. Games like Fract OSC, Super Meat Boy, Papers Please and so many more are making an often stagnant and unpleasant games market truly worth our collective man hours.

It's in this strange and wonderful new world that Antichamber was launched. Released in 2013 by Australian developer Alexander Bruce – who actually chronicled his experience creating the game in a GDC talk which has been released online- Antichamber is a game that describes itself as “A Mind-Bending Psychological Exploration Game” and frankly that's the best way to describe it.

The game starts by tossing you into an area that looks kind of like a black and white Holodeck from Star Trek, the game is presented in a first person view. Each wall in this room holds a different view. The first shows a picture with a proverb, as you complete more of the game more of these will show up. The next shows a map asking you to choose your destination. The third shows the exit, blocked by a glass pane. The final wall shows the options menu and a timer (whose significance I will not explain). The only way to continue is to choose the only area marked on the map.

This brings you to the first real puzzle in the game, you stand on a ledge and are told to walk. You can see the other side and a large abyss below. Here is where the genius of this game presents itself. You can easily walk to the other side of the abyss, the path will appear around you. However if you were to jump you would fall to another area with additional paths open to you. The game is completely non-linear and both methods of “advancement” are equally valid, in fact before or after each area there is a picture/proverb which when unlocked fill in the collection and map in the home area. If you made the choice to jump the proverb waiting for you states “Failing to succeed does not mean failing to progress”.

Antichamber doesn't seem to care much if you make large amounts of progress rather, it cares that you experience the game. This is how I play it and encourage you to do the same. It's a setpiece based game if ever there was one. Easily the most common trick the game plays with you relies on perspective and geometry shifting. For example there is a room that I call the “Art Gallery”. In it is a series of walls – i.e like columns- that seem to contain exhibits within them. One of them is a pendulum in the shape of a magnifying glass constantly ticking and with each one spelling out L I F E. If you turn the corner however there will be another exhibit like a low poly render of a man sitting down which should technically be occupying the same space as the pendulum. Around the next corner is the corridor to the next puzzle which (in addition to going past the confines of the column that it is a part of) should take up the space of the pendulum, 3D object AND the other exhibit on the other wall. Head hurt yet? Well here's a simpler example. You come to a set of two staircases, one is red and the other is blue. You take the red staircase. You return to the same staircase. You take the blue staircase. You return to the same staircase. A new proverb appears which hints that you need to take a third option. That third option is to go back. After 6 right turns (you heard me) you will go to a new area entirely. Often in fact you will reach a complete dead end, no worries however as a simple press of the escape key will bring you straight back to the hub room like a home button.

The reason for this strange, non-eucilidian approach to geometry and general spacial relationships is apparently due to the way that the Unreal engine handles map data, all I know is that the game is very good at messing with my head with the many impossible spaces that Antichamber throws at me. At the risk of people thinking I'm spoiling the game, I truly am not. This is stuff that you will find in a first or second round of playing the game and there are a GREAT many more brain melting examples of this games lax boundaries as pertains the laws of reality.

This rambling account of the game probably gives you the idea that Antichamber is an aimless mess of a “game”. No there is an exit and there are developing systems in it. Early on you will come across a “gun” capable of absorbing or shooting the coloured cubes used to control the many doors in the game. As you go deeper into the world of Antichamber you will discover different coloured guns, all of which have new effects on cubes, from dragging long lines of cubes to multiplying them. All of them serve to make the cube puzzles easier and let you get closer to the end of the game.

The graphics of Antichamber are relatively spartan but fitting, the game is mostly monochrome and defined by sharp lines and the occasional use of gradients where disorienting and with striking solid colour use throughout for definition. The sound is also similarly sparse with the majority of the game made up of ambient noise and sound effects. All of these add to the strange atmosphere of the game however and are perfectly suited.

I do have some criticism of the game. Firstly is that a great many of the puzzle areas link up to larger ones. The “art gallery” room I mentioned earlier? There are at least 5 or 6 different puzzles that link directly to that one and another couple that indirectly lead to it. Often I've been excited that I've found another route which may even lead to the exit only to get to the end and suddenly I see that god-damn pendulum again.

My second issue is that the surreal geometry bending puzzles that define the “early” parts of the game – those parts that are accessible without the cube gun – are phased out or toned down as the game goes on. Once you get the cube gun you spend more time wrangling cubes instead of wrangling the physics of the game which I personally find much more enjoyable.

Overall however Antichamber is an excellent game and a perfect example of how the current indie game “boom” that has occurred over the last several years has produced games that, while often rough, are incredibly interesting and fun. The other thing that makes me highly recommend it is that it's easy to sink some time in for a few minutes or to have a marathon of a few hours, often I play for about 20 minutes to see how far I get until I reach a dead end before trying again later. For some the game may be a little draining, the game does demand much from you for it to divulge its secrets and it is a very intellectual game, this separates it from games like Portal (the easiest comparable game) which tend to be more “open” with their style. However despite this Antichamber is an incredible game and one that is best experienced rather than related.

5/5

maboroshi's avatar
Community review by maboroshi (July 04, 2015)

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EmP posted July 06, 2015:

Hey, been a while.

Antichamber struck me as a really awkward game to review, so good job on taking it on. I really dug the game; it kind of forces you to forget all that video game logic you've been amassing over the years and messes with your expectations. I certainly agree with you that it's a better experience pre-gun. I lost a fair bit of interest when that thing popped up.
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maboroshi posted July 06, 2015:

EmP thanks for the feedback. yeah it was kinda awkward to adequately explain and i don't think i've REALLY gotten it right but, well there weren't any reviews on here so i thought i may as well give my opinion. especially since i think it's a perfect example of how "bedroom programmers" are starting to come back and produce really great media again.

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