Some years ago I had a brief experience with a game demo that was, simply put, awesome. It’s utterly unique mind-melting exploration gameplay left me in a state of confused amazement, and I assured myself that once this game was released I would get my hands on it, and enjoy the fuller experience. That game was Hazard: The Journey of Life, which has now been released as Antichamber; this name change almost had me overlooking the game I’d been subconsciously anticipating for some time, but the instant I spotted some screenshots I recognized the distinct visual style and immediately felt myself getting keen to play. With all this hype and the accompanying pressure, does one-man team Alexander Bruce’s Antichamber drop the ball? Does it let the pressure get to its head? No. No, it doesn’t. It is, simply put, awesome.
In Antichamber players lead themselves through a Metroid-esque maze of interconnecting chambers, each requiring unique strategies to traverse. Never will the puzzles become mundane, as fresh ideas are constantly worked into every room and every hallway, which keeps the gameplay exciting and the feeling of completion satisfying as hell, but also may push the more impatient amongst us past that state of vexing. With experience in previous chambers not necessarily providing any help in completing future chambers, it’s understandable for players to want to cry, but for those who push through, eventually some hidden path will be discovered and there shall be rejoicing.
The main component of puzzle-solving in Antichamber is definitely the psychological aspect. In more common puzzle games, players would never think that to make progress they will literally have to backtrack, only to find the hallway they came down has been replaced with another. This is probably why Antichamber is advertised more as an exploration title than a puzzle game; many of these puzzles can be completed by just exploring the environment, as opposed to performing certain actions in a certain order and whatnot. Admittedly, while playing this game, sometimes my head hurts.
In travelling the halls and chambers of the complex, you’ll discover a block-moving gun-thing that will get more powerful through further exploration. This is crucial to the completion of puzzles, as many chambers early in the game that initially appear to only be decoration are revealed to be paths to more exits, but only through using more advanced powers. However, having some puzzles in chambers early in the game unbeatable until a better gun is obtained, without actually telling the player that such a gun is obtainable can leave them feeling cheated. Darn you, Alexander Bruce!
As far as story goes, I can safely say that there is no storyline whatsoever in Antichamber, and I don’t mind at all. I’ve mentioned in a previous review that I prefer a story to be an empty, blank slate than a poorly written and eye-rolling-ly derivative, dirty slate of boring, so I’m all for Antichamber’s aura of mystery. I’m unsure what gives this feeling, but there is something about the lack of human interaction in the voiceless, white-walled complex that the continual splashes of colour and frequent sounds of nature (such as birds chirping, waves crashing) can’t make happy. It’s hell-a-eerie. As if to emphasise this clinical, non-human feeling that the entire game possesses, the options and menu screens are housed in their own little room in the complex, which can even be viewed through a window from an other room.
I felt alienated throughout the game, which only made the motivational messages that are left about the complex all the more awkward. These messages are the feel-good type such as “A dead end will only stop you if you don’t try to move through it”. Usually they tie in to the chamber just completed, as in this example there is a hallway that is a dead end, but as you approach it, the rear wall disintegrates, allowing you to pass through. This feels sort of like a life lesson, as if the game is patting you on the back, slowly nodding and saying “You’ve done well.” I didn’t mind this, but I could imagine less tolerant players feeling bitter towards this imagined condescending tone. Also, the messages are mostly shown after the relevant chamber, and so are of no use; if they were shown beforehand, they could offer a hint of sorts for the next challenge, although that would have made the experience less enjoyable for me at least. The fun of Antichamber is independently discovering techniques to overcome numerous obstacles and find the paths they hide.
Whereas Antichamber, like many other games, should take about seven hours to venture through, unlike these other games it is actually engrossing for the whole experience. That whole seven hours will be spent staring at the screen, whether that is in awe, frustration or confusion (or a mix of these). I cannot fathom how one man produced all the thought that went into creating these challenges for players to explore and defeat, and he receives a very large thumbs up from me. For any players who like a bit of the weird and innovative, and are tolerant enough to push through some corny life lessons and exasperatingly unhelpful puzzles, Antichamber will press all the right buttons. Well, most of them at least.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Antichamber by Alexander Bruce.