Steaming: Antichamber

2015, Jan 26    

My steam library is comparatively small, but it still contains a fairly substantial pile of shame. The only way out is through. In alphabetical order.

Antichamber was top of my steam list. It is an indie, first person puzzle game, with simple graphics and a unique brand of puzzle. I picked it up in a sale a long time ago after seeing a let’s play video, thinking it looked like my kind of thing.

Antichamber starts out great. It looks completely unique, starting out in a small room featuring the game settings on one of the walls. The idea that you’re stuck in-game and that everything is first person lends really well to the minimalist feel of the environment. There are no textures, no real lighting, no enemies, no other entities: just you and a series of cell-shaded corridors and rooms, mostly decorated in black and white. Each puzzle is marked by a zen-like proverb and a cute drawing on a black panel, which serves as a navigation tool. The initial puzzles are fantastic - they play with perspective and your perception of the environment in ways only matched by Portal. Shortly afterwards, though, the use of the game’s “weapon” is introduced: you are given a gun which can pick up and drop blocks in the environment, and the puzzles become based around using the blocks to hold doors open and push switches. Over time, you gain upgrades to the gun which allow you to move blocks in the environment instead of just placing them and eventually you’ll find yourself creating new blocks. It’s a great idea, in theory: it creates the idea that if something seems unsolvable now, it’ll become easier once you find the next upgrade. Unfortunately, that didn’t often seem to be the case for me - it mostly turned out that the way to solve the puzzle was something that felt rather glitchy and unintended, such as just catching the edge of a block, or nudging blocks around inch by inch until I could leap between them, and I didn’t need the upgrade at all. Everything just felt fiddly.

Ideally a puzzle game stumps you for a while, but never for too long. It makes you feel stupid, and then makes you feel smart. In Antichamber, I just felt stupid, and when I did achieve, I felt like I’d cheated or glitched my way through. I had to use guides for a few of the puzzles, but I did complete it. Steam says it took me 6.7 hours.