Review – Antichamber – PC

Antichamber’s biggest selling point is apparent from the very beginning.  It’s pared down aesthetic of white walls with occasional bright colors contrasts with the busy, murky, and brown world of most games.  Peel back the stark visuals and Antichamber is a mind bending puzzle game that succeeds at what it tries, but never aspires to be anything more.

Antichamber’s puzzles rely on two basic mechanics: perspective and blocks.  In one of the most creative twists on the puzzle genre in a while, Antichamber uses the player’s view on a situation to solve problems.  Manipulating what the player sees is key to changing the environment.  For example, one puzzle has the player stuck in a room with no exit and a window in the center of the room.  The window looks into another room, but walking on the other side of it the reveals no such room.  The answer is to make the window take up the player’s entire screen whereby they are transported to the next room.  This is just the tip of the iceberg of a series of very clever puzzles.

Joining the perspective puzzles is the use of a block manipulating gun.  Blocks can hold open doors, act as stairs, and open locks.  The player discovers additions to the gun that allow for further manipulation and clever puzzle solving.  Accompanying these puzzles are a series of written clues that nudge the player towards a solution.  Developer Alexander Bruce appears to have intended for the clues to also provide some philosophical meaning, but they’re too shallow to achieve that goal. The clues come off more like fortune cookie writings than anything of substance.  Still, they provide thoughtful hints without bludgeoning the player with the answer.

The visuals of the world are the clear standout of Antichamber.  Eschewing detailed worlds and clutter, Antichamber consists largely of white walls outlined with black borders which are occasionally highlighted by bright colors.  In addition to creating a feeling of strangeness, the bare levels help the player focus on what matters in a given space.  Important gameplay elements are immediately apparent allowing for the player to know what tools they have to work worth and dispensing with the confusion of wondering if the player is missing something.  Often they are, but it is a conceptual leap, not a digital object.  In a game without significant explanation, the choice of a stark environment is extremely helpful in reducing confusion.

For all that is interesting with the visuals in Antichamber, the narrative is non-existent.  A game need not have a compelling narrative to push the player on, but Antichamber feels like one of several missed opportunities in the indie gaming world where the developer creates an interesting world, but fails to create a compelling story to support it (See Limbo or Super Brothers Sword and Sworcery).  Often these games are critically lauded for the inventive settings, but they lack a narrative hook that give their worlds meaning.  Antichamber’s visuals stand triumphant as a way to minimize explanatory intrusion into the player’s experience, but it could have also used this environment to place the puzzling in context.  Instead, it joins the aforementioned games as possessing an interesting foundation that it does not building upon.

At its core, Antichamber is a visually striking, mind bending puzzler.  Lovers of the genre will appreciate the clever ideas Alexander Bruce introduces and the stark visual design he employs.  I recommend they take a look.

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