Antichamber was another one of the seemingly perpetual convention games. It was perpetually at PAX, always teasing this incredible experience that you could never get from a big budget, AAA release, but never actually coming out. Strangely, not only did it actually come out, but it released the very same week as one of the other perpetual convention games, Skulls of the Shogun. Antichamber is an exercise in non-Euclidean geometry that is actually all about psychology.
Before I go any further, let me get everyone on the same page here. Euclidean geometry is the geometry we know and exists in our world. Non-Euclidean geometry is anything that breaks the spacial rules of the universe that we exist in. Within the game that means you can walk through a doorway, turn around and find that the room you just left is now a completely different space. It doesn’t transform or shift, both spaces exist on the same plane, simply accessed through different sides of a single doorway. One door can lead to a number of rooms depending on the side and angle of which you enter it. Simply put, an M.C. Escher painting is non-Euclidean geometry.
There is no plot. While there are signs with child-like doodles on them that will reveal a message stating a loose clue, they don’t give any sort of story. You are chasing a strange, black mass, but there are no reasons as to why. You are in the Antichamber and that is your goal, if you want some deep narrative experience, look elsewhere. What it does is provide some the most post challenging puzzles and an introspective look into how you go about solving a challenge.
The world of Antichamber is equipment gated and features numerous dead ends, some with rooms filled with insight on the development of the game. At any time you can hit the ‘esc’ key and be whisked back to the hub room that contains a map that can teleport you to any puzzle room you’ve discovered in the game. It also shows every doorway you haven’t found and entered, laying them there on the wall to tease and tempt you to try anything and everything. Once you do get a new upgrade for your matter manipulation gun, you will be shown a puzzle that teaches you everything you can do with it.
Developer: Alexander Bruce
Released: Jan 31, 2013
MSRP: $19.99 [Buy Now]
It’s not about learning a new trick each puzzle, it’s about bending the way you traditionally approach puzzles to accommodate a world that doesn’t function like what we’re used to. Any time I found myself stuck it wasn’t because I didn’t have a tool or the knowledge, but because I had just put ten round pegs into ten round holes to solve ten different puzzles, the puzzle vexing me appeared to have a round peg and a round hole, but I wasn’t looking close enough. What appeared round was really oval and if I simply adapted my strategy to that of oval holes, the puzzle was beautifully simple.
I don’t like banging my head against a puzzle until I either brute force it or give up entirely. Antichamber allowed me to take a step back and try something else. There is almost always another door you can try and find a way into and getting stuck on one just had me moving onto the next until I found some insight that let me rediscover what I had forgotten to open the first door. What was brilliant was finding a way to convey puzzle solutions practically. Yes, those vague clues are insightful, but they usually cemented what you just accomplished as a strategy to use instead of telling you how to do it.
The puzzles themselves aren’t all what makes Antichamber so fascinating. The spartan art design and sparing use of audio solidifies this alien world. When you see splashes of color or hear anything you know that you need to be paying attention. Color is your gate and your guide where as sound is a clue. There’s something about the simplistic shapes and designs that guide you throughout this illogical world that just works. If they were more complex it would only confuse and obscure the whole point.
While it happens every year, I pray that I don’t forget Antichamber come year end awards time. I have not been as challenged or engaged in a puzzle game for some time. What Alexander Bruce has created is nothing short of brilliant and if you own a capable PC you owe it to yourself to play it through. I can’t think of a stronger way to start off 2013 and now there will be a void at PAX where Antichamber once dazzled.