When looking at classic first-person puzzle games, it’s quite hard to not mention the Portal series. Everybody loved Portal simply because the game’s puzzles took advantage of physics as well as mechanics. That, coupled with a plot that somewhat addresses the notion of the human condition resulted in a game that became an instant classic. However, with Antichamber, I’ve learned that creating an excellent puzzle game doesn’t necessarily need any of these seemingly essential factors. Viable physics, intricate art design, plot and character development; these things do not exist in the world of Antichamber.
Antichamber is a first-person puzzle-platformer developed by Alexander Bruce. The game takes the player through levels that represent non-Euclidean space. As someone who isn’t as keen with maths or physics as I am, trying to understand what the hell non-Euclidean space is and how it applies to Antichamber was quite difficult.
From what I’ve learned, Euclidean geometry consists of a specific set of rules that, as far as we know, our universe abides by. Non-Euclidean geometry represents anything that contradicts with the laws of the universe we exist in. In Antichamber, there seems to be a finite number of existing planes that all somehow intersect within the same space. However, these planes are only accessible through particular, albeit inexplicit, exits or entrances. I think of it as places where different realities intersect. The intersection can manifest into a window, a door or just specific area. When you walk up to a certain point in a hallway, the floor starts to disappear. This isn’t because the floor is actually disappearing, it is actually just you entering another plane where the floor doesn’t exist.
Antichamber is set in a non-Euclidean space manifested in a vast labyrinth full of strange puzzles and imagery. The player takes on the role of an unnamed and unseen protagonist that must solve each level in order to progress to the next. However, in a space where different planes intersect, it is never a linear path. Thankfully, the developer included a room that acts as the player’s main hub where a map can be viewed that shows all the areas that have been unlocked as well as unfinished areas which become available to teleport to.
There are a few color-coded “guns” scattered across the game that enable you to manipulate the environment to some extent. Each gun has its own special ability that can be used to unlock previously inaccessible areas. This feature, combined with the map available in the main hub, almost makes Antichamber play like a Metroidvania title; in order to progress you must backtrack and come back with new tools.
The puzzles themselves feel completely new and original. The Euclidean geometry we are familiar with in our reality makes it harder, but not impossible, for us to comprehend the puzzles presented in the game. On creating an atypical environment, Bruce stated that “breaking down all those expectations and then remaking them is essentially the core mechanic of the game.” The puzzles require you to think how you wouldn’t usually think in a puzzle game. Thinking logically will get you nowhere because what you perceive as logical is fundamentally flawed in a non-Euclidean world. So instead of improving on things you’ve learned from previous puzzles, Antichamber requires you to take a step back and completely rethink your approach. However, constantly running through a surreal and confusing environment, constantly running into dead ends may cause quite a bit of frustration. There is also a lack of any sort of reward as well as any clear semblance that you are actually making progress.
Antichamber doesn’t have a narrative or a plot at all. The only thing that comes close to this are vague clues left behind by what seems like the only constant thing that exists within the labyrinth of confusion. These clues often provide insight on the puzzles but are usually given after you’ve already solved the puzzle. These little sayings on the walls are also meant to apply to how we live our lives. Antichamber feels like it is more about psychology than anything else.
The factor that won me over in this game are the visuals. Running on the Unreal Engine 3, Antichamber is, to put it bluntly, trippy as fuck. The design, though presented in a simple and sleek manner, is actually very complicated and reflect various mathematical patterns. At times, it feels like Antichamber‘s visuals are random for the sake of random. This plays in really well with the puzzle-solving aspect of the game. Selective information is often what makes a puzzle game fail in terms of difficulty. When you see an item that is clearly labelled and is sitting right in the middle of the room, you can bet that it most probably has something to do with the solution. In Antichamber, the objects you need to interact to solve the puzzles look just as random and strange as objects that seem to serve no purpose.
Antichamber is all about constantly changing your perspective and breaking from conventional thinking. The psychedelic visuals combined with ambient and often anachronistic audio makes the game feel like a journey through different realities you would never imagine could exist. It is a puzzle-platformer that definitely transcends into a brilliant work of art.