It’s difficult to write about Antichamber, except to say that if you like puzzles and you’re fond of the first-person perspective, you should stop reading this and plunk down your digital dollars for the game on Steam right now. For the rest of us, let me spend a few words trying to win you over. Antichamber, the product of a single developer (Alexander Bruce), a lot of time, and plenty of love has a lot of shared skeleton with games like Portal or Fez (no relation), but it leaves a stark impression on you from the first moment you play it. You can’t shake it, it permeates your brain. You need to play Antichamber.
There are many reasons people, like myself, loved Portal. Sure, it had all the memorable set dressing, the colorful antagonist, and plenty of humor, but there was one major reason why people kept coming back: it was actually a pretty easy game. There’s really no sense in drafting all that lovely humor and wonderful plot development if the game’s too difficult to get through. Antichamber takes a different tack: it has a direct relationship with you as the gamer.
From the first moments, the game plays with your brain. It puts you before a great chasm and tells you “Fly?”, so you try it and fall way short of the other end. When you reach the chamber below, it teaches you a lesson. Moments later, you’re told “persistence is a wonderful trait” as you enter a cylindrical corridor that loops upon itself. You begin to have doubts. Is this the right direction? Is this the right way to go? Do you keep going? Antichamber is full of these questions and gets under your skin because it’s you that’s asking them rather than the game forcing them upon you. In this way, the game can begin to push your puzzle-solving skills to the limit as it straddles a line between Portal’s accessibility and a far more opaque challenge like Myst. It does this because while the puzzles can be relatively simple, it’s not the just solution that can elude you, but the puzzle entirely. That the game pulls off M.C. Escher-esque twists in orientation and geography compounds this. Like Fez, the world expands into a maze of corridors and chambers as you plum its depths. If you ever get stuck, a simple tap of the escape key will bring you back to Antichamber’s antechamber where you can examine a map of your accomplishments and warp to somewhere different and try something else.
The game’s cel-shaded, stark look (one that becomes more colorful as you progress) is far less a gimmick than a dismissal of all distractions. It’s almost patronizing. This is simple. I’m presenting you a puzzle. There’s nothing else going on. What are you getting distracted by? The look isn’t perfect all the time, the game’s textures are a little underwhelming, but it does exactly what it needs to. The game won’t have proper controller support for a bit, so more casual fans, the ones that this game’s mind-fuckery should be perfect with, might be put off. This game is a Steam/PC exclusive at the moment, but it’s not hard to imagine this being on every platform within a year: Antichamber doesn’t require much precision movement or twitchy handling to get things done.
There’s plenty of challenge in Antichamber and even if you’re some kind of super brain who can wrap their heads around Antichamber’s various hurdles, there’s still plenty of content here. While not as colorful or funny as those other games, Antichamber is something very new and different that doesn’t mind if you set it down for a time and come back, ready to go.