Antichamber review: frustratingly rewarding

By Ozzie Mejia, Feb 01, 2013 12:00pm PST

It's difficult to describe what Demruth's Antichamber is, mostly because it's in a constant state of flux. What appears to be a crudely outlined room quickly becomes far more than that. Colors draw meaning where there was no meaning before. There's more to everything than meets the eye. Nothing is as it seems in Antichamber and Alexander Bruce's brainchild becomes a far richer experience because of that.

Don't expect to learn much about the minimalistic, Escher-like world of Antichamber. Players are thrown into the fire immediately and asked to escape. There's no tutorial, a very limited backstory that unfolds through vague clues along walls, and, in fact, there isn't even a main menu. The game starts inside a small central hub, where game options can be adjusted along the hub's wall. There's also a map that allows players to jump to any room they've previously discovered. This becomes critical, because it's easy to get hopelessly lost.

Antichamber is a major exercise in lateral thinking. "Progressing" requires solving a series of odd logic puzzles. The start of the game contains a "leap of faith" that can't simply be solved by jumping, but by using the walk button, a floor will slowly materialize underneath and allow safe passage. A different chamber features dual staircases (one red and one blue) that both lead nowhere. Perception and alternative perspectives are the key to solving many of these puzzles, while some others are an easy matter of just walking forward. In fact, a number of these solutions are the kind that will make you kick yourself for not thinking of them before.

Other solutions will not be available until the player finds a cube gun that looks aesthetically similar to Portal's classic portal gun. Cubes help add a dimension of depth to many of the puzzles, as they can be used to unlock doors or prop open sliding doors. In keeping with Antichamber's lateral thinking theme, cubes can even be used to create platforms or bridges. There are four different cube guns to be found and they all open up new possibilities--assuming you can find them.

A lot of Antichamber's appeal can be credited to its pressure-free environment. There are no enemies, no time limits, and no deaths. Players can move along at their own pace, allowing for the opportunity to think outside the box. I could potentially stand in front of a puzzle for minutes at a time and not feel the pressure to rush a solution. It's a sense that's enhanced by the game's minimalist art style--there aren't any intimidating set pieces that make me feel rushed, but rather, the game is filled with simple line drawings and primary color splotches that make me feel more relaxed.

Despite Antichamber's low-pressure presentation, however, it's hard to tell if you're actually making any progress. Many of the chambers double back around, creating a sense of wandering in circles. It's a sense that increases if you find yourself falling down a pit, since many of the pits converge along the same dead end path. You'll often find yourself repeating some of the same puzzles again in a vain attempt to find that one elusive solution that finally yields something new. You'll also find yourself taking breaks several times in an attempt to regroup the tatters of your broken mind. On one hand, the crushing difficulty is frustrating, but once a particularly demanding solution finally reveals itself, there is an immense sense of satisfaction to be had.

Antichamber is a pleasant (albeit mind-numbingly tough) puzzle game experience. It's aimed at all audiences looking for an alternative to the traditional puzzler, but its punishing difficulty means only genre diehards will see this one through to the end. Those with a ton of patience, however, will find Antichamber to be a challenging and highly rewarding experience that's worth savoring.

This Antichamber review was based on a digital PC version of the game provided by the publisher.

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