Antichamber is a rare case: a game that uses its avant-garde design for a functional use.
Comparing Antichamber to Portal is an easy mistake to make. While they are both first-person puzzle platformers in nature, they feature very different ways to test one’s logic. Of course, Portal revolved around using the tools on your person to overcome puzzles laid before you. Antichamber on the other hand attempts to truly test your ability to not only solve mind-bending puzzles, but also challenge the tropes of conventional first-person games. Is it a stroke of genius?
The very first thing you’ll see when loading the game is that this game uses the Unreal Engine 3; after this, you will see how the game uses said game engine. While the majority of the game can look like a blank canvas at times with calm sounds, it soon becomes apparent that everything is designed with a purpose. Colour is used sparsely, either for signifying where to go next or solving puzzles. Progression is heralded with a little sketch on a wall that provides subtle references to puzzles completed beforehand or upcoming riddles. Initially, it comes off as a little pretentious, but you’ll soon discover these blocks are truly on your side in the Antichamber.
From the get go, Antichamber teaches you to throw away all preconceived notions that you know how to play a first-person puzzler. You are trapped in a chamber surrounded by black walls with glass separating you from the exit. One wall is an interactive options menu that allows you to change your settings, while another has a blip on it. Clicking this blip will teleport you to another area where it asks you to jump. This is where you discover that the first segment of the game is designed to cruelly trick you into performing certain actions, before teaching you that all is not what it seems. Eventually you will come across a dead-end with a keyboard button for company.
By pressing the button, you will return to the first room, which it turns out acts as a hub world for collecting the tip images that act as checkpoints in a clickable world map. Having the ability to just escape from dead-ends by literally pressing the Esc button is an amusing, yet useful touch. Going back into the first room though will change the text to teach you something else – nothing is what it seems at all. Before long, you will come across twist after twist that challenges your perception.
Later, you will gain access to a gun with four upgrades that shoots out cubes which are manipulated in various ways. Each one is gradually introduced to you with branching paths hinting at the next advancement. The three upgrades in particular are not what you’d expect, helping further expand on the sense of wonderment and discovery. By the time you get the last upgrade though, many branching pathways are open to you, meaning that finding the way out is somewhat tricky.
If you’re wondering whether you get your money’s worth, the relatively cheap price of admission is a bit of a bargain when stacked against the total amount of content. What greatly helps is the maze-like structure, combined with the tendency to give very little away. As such, despite having a rudimentary timer that counts down, the game will more than likely take at least ten hours to truly comprehend. Luckily the game allows you to play at your own pace, so you’re never under pressure to complete the game as quickly as possible.
Antichamber is a rare case: a game that uses its avant-garde design for a functional use. Every element of its design challenges you to think outside of the box from the get-go, which does give you the initial impression that it is a little narcissistic. Let yourself go on this bewildering ride that Antichamber wishes to take you however and you’ll soon realise that this is the obvious evolution from the foundations that Portal began. It is certainly an indie game through and through with its austere design style, but there’s always something to discover right up to the end. You can get lost very easily with its Metroidvania style of level design, but this Euclidean geometry puzzler is a true test of your abilities – a true challenge.