16 April 2013

Antichamber Review

I feel like writing about this game, because I played it and it's the sort of game that warrants a review.

Not because it's particularly good, mind you. The impression I got from Antichamber is one of overwhelming mediocrity, and if you want to find out why, I will tell you exactly why.

Check it out.

I'm not reading this synopsis: Solid 6/10; neat style and some clever puzzles, but ultimately collapses in on itself as unintentional self-parody combined with mostly uninteresting puzzles.Would recommend to people who've already played all the better games in its genre and are looking for something new, but nearly nobody else.

Here's what we've got: a first person puzzle game. There are two major gimmicks that make up the majority of the game; first, you've got the non-euclidean physics, meaning that you can't always predict where you're going to go. Second, you have the block gun thing, which lets you pick up colored blocks and then put them other places. This is useful for some puzzles, or sometimes to make things for you to stand on.

The big draw seems to be the minimalistic art and the atmosphere of "otherness," which I will admit is kind of nifty, but it's the kind of nifty that wears off fast. The game itself doesn't seem too interested in its atmosphere, though, as it makes liberal use of some of the most eye-straining colors and color combinations I've seen in a game. The white on white might seem attractive, and indeed in the hands of a more visually apt designer might be quite the nice style decision, but in Antichamber it's merely the way things are by default until you encounter a room festooned in bright yellows and cyans, or make your way down one of the other primary color themed hallways. I'm not really the kind of person who's interested in graphics per se, but there's a difference between graphics and style. Antichamber simply has no style.

I'll admit that in a puzzle games, the point is to get to the meat of the game rather than look at the pretty colors or whatever, so let's look at that, then.

The puzzles are fairly varied, and will leave you scratching your head and wondering what exactly you're supposed to be doing. There are no hints to where you should be going, no suggestions to even what sort of puzzle you're looking at. This wouldn't be a big deal, except that the game seems to revel in making you go "alright, what?" Some walls fade from existence when you move into them. Some floors disappear when you walk over them. Some floors are bouncy. There are no in-game hints as to where these features would be- it's up to you to push your head into the blank wall next to the blank wall and see what happens. If you thought pixel-bitching was a great feature in a point and click game, you'll love this. Apparently this is part of the game's charm- I found it tedious. You can usually guess where things are supposed to go if you put on your Big Thinky Hat and say "If I was a designer creating a first person game that was trying to 'mess with people', where would I put a wall," and then there you go, there's your solution. This works a frustratingly large amount of the time.

If you can't figure out what the designer was thinking, well, you don't get to do anything. You get to stand there, and since there are no environment clues or hints as to what an object is for, what you're left with is a big guessing game. Does it move? Nope. Can I jump on it? No. Is there anything around it? Nope, it's just me and it and a big empty room. Are any of these walls fake? Nope. Can I suck any blocks from it? Nope. If you can't be original with your puzzle designs (and "intentionally" making puzzles with a single, non-obvious solution is not original, damn it), you should at least be clever, and there are glimpses of cleverness apparent in the game. It's the most frustrating part, really- the game could be clever, but the designer went the lazily opaque route instead. It attempts to dazzle you with its style, which is sparse, or its wit, which is worse.

The wit, right? Goodness, here we go.

I'm saving the worst for last, because this is what cinches it for me. When I don't think about the little signposts peppered throughout the game, I always think to myself, maybe I'm being too rough on myself. Maybe I'm just being a dick and I should try playing it again. After all, there was that one bit with the block gun that was neat, and I liked the bit with the dimension-box thing-

And then I remember this gem.

So there you are; you've played through the first maybe hour of the game. You've beaten some basic puzzles, gotten some meaningless advice through cheesy and sappy placards stuck onto the white on white of the walls that's equal parts pretentious and gloating. You're starting to get the hang of it. "The entire world is retarded," you say to yourself, "there are floating words and shit that are lying to you and sometimes walls aren't walls and these signs are really stupid, but I'm willing to see where this is all going, I bet it pays off in a little bit with a really clever puzzle or something," and you're walking through a passagway when you see a giant sign saying EXIT.

"Well I just started this shit, but maybe it's like a joke, maybe it's saying like "there is no EXIT, the entire world is all weird, I bet there's gonna be something clever."

Nope. This is what the designer has to say to you.


The rest of them aren't much better. Here's another one.

Fuck this. If I thought the developer were being smarmy, in a sort of gentle ribbing at the sort of shit that "indie" games get made fun of, this would be ok. But it's not. It's dead serious. This is really a thing in the game, and it's presented with a completely straight face. These things are everywhere.  They are on half the damned hallways in the game, and their quantity is only eclipsed by their inanity. They never say anything clever or helpful, it's always pseudo-philosophical ramblings about nothing in particular. In the hands of a better writer, or a better game designer, it could have been something, but here? Absolutely not.

The game is a solid 6/10- I would recommend it to somebody looking for something a little different, and what it does well it certainly does well. But it's not actually compelling. I don't want to play through and see everything there is to see, because the puzzles simply aren't good enough. It's like the guy who's bragging about his game rendering 32-bit colors and you just don't have the heart to tell him that the genre's moved on and we've already had this discussion about minimalistic puzzles and "psychologically mind-bending games" and it's been done better ten times and that really, dude, is this what you settled on? This is the version of the game that you said ,"Yes, it's finally done," and then shipped copies off to?

Unlike most of my article (please, will you stop writing comments for articles that are years old, I don't really want to argue with random internet people) I actually would like for somebody to come here and explain to me what I'm missing, because I'm not seeing what makes this game even notable. I really don't. I'm not trying to be a dick.

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