QCF: Antichamber

t's easy to forget sometimes that the skills we've picked up through various videogames will often help us towards the next one. Experienced players often rely on the reflexes that so many previous games have enforced on them without even questioning their use in another game. In a way we've all been building up skills since the first game we played; gradually making ourselves better for the next adventure in our path. Antichamber, however, wants you to forget all that and start again.

A game built on breaking preconceptions and tropes of game design, Antichamber seems to want you to forget all the puzzle solving skills you've learned so far. As you can probably tell this is harder and more challenging then it seems but the surprising fact is that forgetting everything you once knew about game design and resetting the way you think is also way more fun and rewarding than it has any right to be. In fact it can be damn near genius at times.

On the surface Antichamber is a surreal first-person puzzle game based on breaking expectations. However the element of exploration is key as the game takes place inside a world that the player is given no details about. Traversing this landscape is the only way you'll learn about its impossible logic, and it's a surprisingly fun experience. There's no story or arbitrary mission to help. It's just you and a weirdly complex environment to scrutinize. In this way it's a "pure" puzzle game experience that relies solely on your desire to progress in order to drive you forward. It relies heavily on exploration with the reward to keep playing being the game's unique and surreal visual aesthetic. Whenever I would get stuck this would be the force pulling me back in as it sports a ton of open paths that lend tehmselves to the branching environment. Walking around is a joy in itself and I haven't seen visuals quite like this before. Antichamber has a stark and cold feel to it, splashed with bright colors and occupied by strange alien artifacts that create an atmosphere that has to be explored to be believed. Exploration is also very easy since one tap of the escape key brings you back to the central hub, with a transportation map that will whisk you off to any puzzle you've encountered before. This pretty much hinders frustration when it comes to traversing the chamber itself, however you will find frustration when it comes to the actual puzzles.

The gameplay itself revolves around your own cluelessness when it comes to the challenges. There's no explanation or tutorial, only vague hints that litter each corridor and new room. Progressing will require you to think outside the box, or indeed the new box that the game takes place in. In a way it feels like playing around in an alternate dimension. Space can fold into itself and the game will often ask you to understand a completely new set of rules to press forward. It's in this way that it feels like one huge puzzle instead of a set of smaller tasks. Once you've grasped one aspect you can then use it to conquer another. Leaning about its environment are the skills that will help you along. By extension, the faster you learn new things the faster you'll progress through the game. But you'll also have to forget how you've traversed other games and solved other puzzles before. And it's a ridiculously hard and somewhat frustrating task at that. It's a challenge that Antichamber builds itself on throughout, meaning that you can regularly find yourself stuck. But there are options, and with the game's branching paths you're never confined to just one puzzle at a time giving you plenty of space to ponder one while learning from another's outcome. With this bizarrely difficult design comes a great deal of satisfaction, however. Once you've trained yourself to think outside the box, this new internal skill will stick in your mind and make you think about just how easy it all really was in theory. But regardless of theories you'll still feel awesome for doing it. The way ahead may be difficult, but it's also extremely rewarding.

There are traditional(ish) elements in Antichamber such as a set of items you'll have to acquire to reach the game's conclusion. These color coded items will help you manipulate objects to press switches and move you forward. They interact with these cubes in different ways and will help you crack the game's more logic-centered puzzles. However while these items do give the normal nonlinear game a sense of progress they can also halt it as you will sometimes need a certain item (or 'gun' type thing) for a specific puzzle. It's is a shame as sometimes I was stuck in a room, trying to find the answer and search my mind, when really all I needed was to have a particular object to succeed. This lead to a lot of doubts later on in my experience as I would have no idea if I had the tools needed to open a certain door or get to the next mandatory item. In fact, these cube and item puzzles make up a lot of the game leading to a vibe of uncertainty following me throughout. Suffice it to say Antichamber is at its best when the only thing stopping you from reaching those final seconds are your own powers of thinking, not that you just haven't found the right tool yet.

This is the only part of the game that feels unfair, which is a shame because the other puzzles are exceptionally (and conceptually) mind-blowing.

Antichamber's best moments, however, are its small tricks that are littered throughout. I would often find myself openly wondering just how someone could have programmed that impossible room, or pull off certain looping corridors. There are no loading screens so everything feels smooth and it's impossible to find the seams of its many deceptions. The game loves to trick you but it never feels like a cruel prank; it's more of a small illusion that gives you a warped sense of wonder. This trickery is very impressive and I haven't seen anything like what Antichamber pulls off in terms of folding space or infinite environments before. This will also drive you forward as the game aims to make you wonder if the impossible really is impossible. And it totally works. When combined with the puzzles these small programming tricks create a unique place where you can never really predict just what kind of room you'll end up in next. Pair this up with the game's exceptional sound design and extraordinarily trippy visuals and you have an atmosphere that's unprecedented in the videogame industry.

Antichamber's faults come from its more traditional puzzle game elements. The uncertainty of the tools is the main example but for every frustrating "do I have the item I need to progress" moment there are easily five stunning instances of subversion and trickery. Without a story the game's momentum comes from your ability to completely rethink the way you interact with the world. The Antichamber itself is a wonder to behold and will often shock and confound you in equal measure.

I haven't played a game quite like this, and I seriously doubt I will again for a long time. Even if I do it won't be quite the same as Antichamber achieves the unimaginable by asking you to abandon everything you knew about game design, and somehow pulls it off in a fun and playful way. Anybody up for warping their sense of reality and knlowdege would be a fool to miss out on this astounding alternate dimension.

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