-Antichamber was developed by a single man, Alexander Bruce, with Siddhartha Barnhoorn as the sole conductor
-Antichamber was the seventh game to receive funding from the Indie Fund, an organization created to support independent developers
I… I really don’t know what to say about this game. I mean, you’ve probably heard all the snappy remarks by now. People have probably been calling this game “Portal with more headaches, less personality” long enough that it’s become a meme, reached every end of the globe, and died out in obscurity.
That’s really why Antichamber sticks out in my mind: it defies every expectation I place on it. This first-person puzzle-platformer acts as a refreshing change from the range of shooters and high-octane action games I’ve been flooded with for weeks, instead asking of me a higher level of thinking, patience and open-mindedness than most games would dare to.
It’s a thinking person’s game, and it shows the second you start the game. Rather than begin in a menu screen, the player starts in a boxed room, showing the configuration options, the controls and a map of the complex they’ll soon be exploring. It’s an interesting design choice, and it works to keep you immersed in the first-person perspective.
Using that map, you select a box representing a specific room, teleporting you to that location. From there, the game begins in earnest with the simplest of puzzles turned into a delightfully frustrating maze of backtracking, exploration and adapting one’s strategies.
It’s hard to specify what I mean without spoiling the game’s complex inner workings or the puzzles’ solutions, but rest assured that the design team – or rather, single designer – knew what they were doing with the concept of non-Euclidean space. Each puzzle dynamically and subtly changes as the player progresses, sometimes even in the blink of an eye or a turn of the shoulder.
Portal analogies are appropriate here, for certain, since these numerous puzzles and conundrums are filled to the brim with carefully applied logic. Despite the number of times and ways in which puzzles may change, even to the extent of defying every law of physics we possess, they still remain engaging and worthwhile because this approach keeps the player on their toes adapting and thinking.
For instance, near the start of the game, there is a chasm which appears to be impossible to cross. Trying to jump inevitably leads to falling down into the depths of this complex, but I nonetheless progressed from below to make my way back up. Later, having been disillusioned with the prospect of jumping across, I attempted to simply walk over the chasm… only to find an invisible portion of floor had appeared to bridge the gap between the two sides.
This intuitive design relies heavily on visual cues, particularly on colour. Most chambers you’ll pass through are pure white, so coming across any colour or distinct shade is meant to signal something of significance. This is incredibly clever on the developer’s part, as it makes interpreting every puzzle a little easier, though not without eliminating the (mostly) fair amount of frustration you’ll face when trying to figure out the more complicated puzzles.
Antichamber draws comparisons to minimalistic works through its simple soundtrack of atmospheric sounds as well. Every chamber, every on-screen visual effect, anything that is meant to make a distinct noise does so in a manner that is absolutely immersive… and notably, as The Kid put it, “kind of terrifying”.
It’s also very much a philosophical experience, evidenced by the numerous guiding quotes strewn throughout the complex. Each of these quotes corresponds to a puzzle’s solution, giving the impression that the game wants you to learn from each experience and take something meaningful (and useful) away from it.
What, you may ask, is the resolution to all of this progression, this subtle teaching experience? Well, that’s the one main sore point of the game: there really isn’t resolution. Without going into details, you’re aware of what (and where) the goal is from the start and the game does its best to hint at something potentially intriguing, but it doesn’t pan out and it results in an endgame that defies explanation of any kind.
Ignoring the age of the engine (since the simply odd appeal of the art design picks up the slack), the only other nitpick I can perceive is that, as I said above, the game lacks a sense of personality or even context. Throughout the many, many hours you’ll spend solving Antichamber‘s puzzles, you never get an impression of who you’re controlling, what this place is or why you’re doing this. There’s no characters, no narrative and no natural emotional engagement – though, for the sake of argument, it does allow the game’s structural strengths to shine.
Ultimately, what holds this game back from being a legendary experience is the very thing that also makes this game intriguing: it’s all gameplay-oriented. It’s built of sound mind, it’s a long lasting experience, it has some truly ground-breaking puzzles and it has replay value for speed runners and puzzle game enthusiasts. It’s just that, without emotional drive throughout the game or a sensible conclusion, the game will infuriate anyone looking for deeper meaning or long-term satisfaction.
That said, this is a damn fine game. It’s easy to recommend, but I’ll be damned if I can justify it any better.
Recommendation: Buy It