Video Game Review: Antichamber

Adventures games have been a part of my life since my childhood, when I would play Monkey Island, Zork, or The 7th Guest with my aunt, and has since grown to include many other titles of the same genre. Unfortunately, the genre declined in popularity in the late 1990’s, largely because not all titles met the standards gamers expected for the prices they paid and there are many games that do fall short of the mark, and nearly became nonexistence after 2000, with the exception for an increasingly repetitious Nancy Drew series and a few other games. With the success of the Portal series, the emergence of critical acclaimed independent companies like Frictional Games, and the promising development of a new Tex Murphy game and The Witness, I’m feeling very optimistic about the future of the adventure game.

Alexander Bruce’s Antichamber is another such game that gives me hope.

Unlike the many games I have enjoyed over the years, Antichamber does not really have much of a story, It relies more the players experience of the highly stylized environment and the thought-provoking picture-messages decorating walls here and there. Some of them also serve as hints to help the player but does not give away answers, as many game “hint systems” do or, in some cases, fail to do. Instead, the compels the player to think differently about the environment and so acts more as am aspect of the game-play and not like a “hint system.”

The labyrinth in which the game-world exists is large, confusing, and follows a not too obvious logic that the player much interpret in order to navigate competently through to the end. As difficult as this might seem, this structure works very well for the game, as the player begins within a smaller area with over portions closed off by puzzles. As the players understanding of the environment and skills increase, the labyrinth expands but never feels to encumbering. To aid the player, the game allows one to easy navigate to almost any place within it that has been previously unlocked. This, along with the menu screen and your collected picture-messages, appear along the walls of the entrance/menu page.

To solve the puzzles the player must experiment with the environment and the block-spewing gun in order to understand how they function and can be used. At times manipulating the blocks can be frustrating. When attempting to create a floor with the red gun the blocks would spread vertically instead of horizontally, and I was unable to determine of what of guiding them in a desired direction. Creating continue lines of blocks can also be difficult, as aiming is not so precise from a distance and the blocks are projected as far as they can go until prevenet by another object. Despite this, building with the blocks can be fun as well, and once during a playful impulse I lined all the walls around me with blocks. Whenever the player creates an enclosed shape the inside fills with more blocks (this technique is used to “grow” blocks) and this same rules applies to three-dimensional shapes. Without thinking about the actual consequences, I effectively entombed myself with a solid block and crashed the game.

The only other aspect of the game I found problematic was the mouse point. Although it remains in the center of the screen, it can be hard to discern from the “evaporation” areas, which are themselves permeated with agitated dots. Nevertheless, it wasn’t so detrimental as to make block manipulation impossible.

Antichamber ends with a curious, rather creepy chase sequence, during which the player has to follow after a mysterious black entity that floats around the maze. In the end this entity becomes necessary for the final puzzle. The ending is simple and rather ambiguous but a satisfyingly mysterious end to a thoroughly mysterious game.

Despite some of the cumbersome mechanics, I found this game greatly enjoyable. It appeals to my desire to explore, experiment, and solve problems; and it does this all in a neat, uncomplicated way. Playing Antichamber captured my interest in a way that few games do and it is a game well worth being interested in.

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