Antichamber knows you before you know it—and that’s assuming that you can ever really know Antichamber. It knows what you’re thinking—knows what you’re assuming about a game of it’s caliber. Alexander Bruce, the crazy mind behind this first-person puzzler, takes player’s assumptions about how traditional video game level design is done and turns them on their head. While at times the journey can feel aimless and confusing, letting go and trusting that the game is pushing you in the right direction is the only way to succeed.
Broken down into a sentence, Antichamber is a first-person puzzle game in the vein of Portal. But that would be selling the game far too short. There is no clear objective in Antichamber, no obvious motivation. Pure wonder and curiosity dominate the senses in Antichamber. There is a sense of non-linearity in the way the game is presented. There is a of a hub world in which players can instantly access by pressing escape that displays the world map and all options for the game. Simply pointing to any location on the world map teleports you there in an instant, which makes it very easy to backtrack if you’ve lost your way.
Yet that is one of the larger problems of Antichamber: the extensive freedom and abstract progression design can lead to aimless wonder throughout places you’ve already been to find some sort of sign that you’re on the right path. This isn’t aided much by the lack of explanation of the map itself. I was often confused by what one symbol meant against another, and for all I know I’m still wrong.
Antichamber does everything in its power to explain itself without explicitly telling you anything. Instead, the game is riddled with panels that reveal philosophical messages. Sometimes it’s obvious the message is meant to drop a hint to the puzzle at hand, and sometimes they’re a pat on the back after the puzzle is completed. Their inconsistency makes it hard to tell, which is surely by design.
Puzzles in Antichamber are based around the idea of non-Euclidean geometry, or in other words, crazy-ass stuff happening with the world that you wouldn’t ever expect from a logical place. An early example is wondering down a hallway that doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, until you turn around to find the place you had just been is now a different place entirely. Never in a game before the world change so quickly and seamlessly around you. But after not too long, you’ll encounter an item that lets you directly interact with the world, which then opens up the premise for the rest of the puzzles in the game.
It’s when you acquire this item when Antichamber really begins to shine. There will be many times that you discover the solution to a puzzle not out of the addition of a mechanic, but out of a greater knowledge of existing ones. My most magical moments in Antichamber were discovering a new way to use your limited tools, and using those new methods to access areas you thought you physically couldn’t. The game knows what you’re going to expect, and uses that against you in the best way possible.
And all of Antichamber’s uniqueness is brought together well by it’s distinct visual style. The color pallet includes a lot of simple white and ultra-saturated outlines and colors. It’s not easy to explain, but colors can play a large role in drawing your attention to an important area of a puzzle. It’s a simplistic art style that appropriately compliments the simplicity of the rest of the presentation.
Completing Antichamber doesn’t crescendo into a gripping narrative, but rather a collective retrospective of the skills you’ve learned along the way, new and old. It’s a puzzle game that doesn’t shy away from making you get by with what you have, and subtly pushes you in the right direction, and still makes you feel like a genius. Its expertly designed puzzles, experience-based progression, and stellar visual style places Antichamber above the fold of any puzzle game I’ve seen in a long while, and one worth experiencing.