‘Antichamber’ Review

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Describing Antichamber without using specific in-game examples, or some sort of visual aid, is quite difficult. On top of being an abstract idea to begin with, the enjoyment of Antichamber comes from discovering the rules of its world on your own. In a similar fashion to games like Fez, Antichamber is a game about discovery, with some basic puzzle mechanics holding it all together. So, for the most part, I will attempt to avoid concrete examples. Created by Australian developer Alexander Bruce, Antichamber is a thoroughly unique experience that is both beautiful and enthralling.

Antichamber opens in a dark spacious room. One wall functions as the options menu, another displays a map, and yet another looks into a separate hallway with a door marked “Exit.” Players are instructed to click on a singular square on the map and are teleported into the game proper, where the first-person adventure through an “Escher-like” world begins.

Structurally, the game differs from more traditional puzzle games. Players aren’t presented with single rooms which each have one obstacle to overcome, with the goal of moving along from one mind bender to the next. In fact, this view of puzzle solving isn’t even touched on for a large portion of Antichamber. The challenge is in learning the rules of the world you’re exploring. The rules of each room, each corridor, each object. Simple traversal isn’t so simple when the floor will occasionally fade from beneath your feet sending you plummeting twenty stories. Or when hallways will seem to repeat upon themselves infinitely, and backtracking leads somewhere completely new. Rooms will often have multiple pathways leading in different directions, and something as plain as a wayward glance downward can open or close one of these passages. It does not have goals the way a normal video game does. The reward is in finding new areas, learning the rules of the alien world, and melting into the psychedelic light show each new zone brings.

For the first hour or two of Antichamber you will get lost, but that helps make it great. Something as little as walking across a bridge is never a given, players work their way up a difficulty curve that starts with basic movement. The sense of childlike wonder is almost palpable as you slowly realize how far you can push the physical boundaries of the world, and then are eventually given new modes of interaction. And if you ever get too lost? Hit escape and you’ll end up right back in the “antichamber” where the game first began, with each room visited now shown on the giant map. With a click you can be anywhere you’ve already been. As you progress, you’ll slowly start to learn the unreal connections that tie all of the pieces together in an impossible whole.

 

New mechanics are introduced as you progress further into the weird world of Antichamber, but how these mechanics are used is never explained extensively. Very light puzzles are used to give a basic idea of how new gameplay elements work, but then players much learn the intricacies on their own. And for most of the game, this learning curve is a nice easy slope. Antichamber doesn’t treat the player like an idiot, and this may be the most refreshing aspect of the game.

That being said, as the end of the game approaches, the difficulty does ramp up. Rooms will be encountered late in Antichamber which will bring progression to a halt. Unless you become some sort of savant, there will be rooms that leave you guessing after hours of contemplation. The final sections of the game will only be seen by those willing to dedicate the time. Or, of course, those who look the answers up online.

Along with everything else the game does, the look Antichamber cultivates is very unique. What begins as a series of sparse white hallways opens up into extravagant displays of shapes and colors, swirling before you in a display of simple beauty. Half the fun of the game is witnessing the show it puts on for you. From a technical standpoint, the game is marvelous as well. Load times are non-existent, even late in the game when teleporting back and forth between opposite ends of the map is the norm. You click on the map and are instantly elsewhere.

The sound design is subtle yet effective. Certain areas, despite their often minimal appearances  can have realistic soundscapes with rain, rushing water, and croaking frogs. Yet sometimes your only companion is a single eerie tone, either way it works wit the visual design to create an amazingly foreign landscape. Clues can be found in the sounds you hear as well, occasionally giving you some sense of place. But just like everything else in Antichamber, you’ll never be sure if it’s trying to help you, mislead you, or is just simply there.

People should play Antichamber based on its uniqueness alone. But, for those wary of something experimental, it still provides a rewarding puzzle-like experience. It made me approach logical problems in a video game in a way I never have before. It messes with your notions of how a game is played, and it does so in an intelligent manner. Antichamber is always messing with your head, and if you’re willing to sit back and let it, you’ll have a fantastic time.

Antichamber was developed by Alexander Bruce. It was released on January 31, 2012. A PC copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.

Chris is an odd sort of thing from the wilds of central Pennsylvania. You can hit him up on Twitter under @chrishauge, PSN under faceless_page, or Xbox Live under teh sledge.