Here’s the first review of one of the indie games on display at PAX AUS and I’ve chose it for 4 reasons:

  1. I already owned it (made things easy really).
  2. It’s the winner or finalist of around ten awards, festivals and contests.
  3. It made it into the indie showcase of PAX.
  4. It not only is one of the few games on PC, but one of the few games on PC that was actually fully-finished and available to play.

Now, where to start…

If you can imagine a spiritual successor to portal where the laws of geometry and colour don’t apply, then you can somewhat imagine what Antichamber is like. It is a puzzle-platformer from the first-person perspective where sometimes it’s that very perspective which can affect the level around you. Going backwards can sometimes lead you somewhere different than if you were going forwards. If you go around a corner and then turn around, you might find that the path behind you has changed.  After a small bit of research (i.e. looking at Antichamber’s wikipedia page), turns out that Antichamber occupies non-Euclidean space. This does not mean a region of space where the Euclideans are not allowed, but rather a space which doesn’t follow the laws of geometry.

A room containing squares with weird stuff... depending on which side of the square you look through.
A room containing squares with weird stuff… depending on which side of the square you look through.

But with all this in mind, Antichamber is a puzzle platformer. Throughout the course of the game (which can be very short or very long depending on how laterally you think), you come into possession of guns that don’t create portals, but instead have the capability to manipulate cubic blocks which are used to solve puzzles. Every new gun is an upgrade, unlocking more abilities.

As I mentioned this game was on display and PAX and one of the indie games put up for the showcase. I sat in on a panel where lead-designer, producer, graphical artist… basically the one-man team, Alexander Bruce, got to answer questions about his game and its development and success in particular. Turns out the trick is to spend 3 years in your room with sleepless nights, avoiding people until your produce a successful game. And to quote him,

“If you want to be a successful indie developer, the best thing to do is produce a great game.”

This is great advice… in hindsight. There’s no way to be successful until a lot of people buy your game and positive reviews are given, something which can’t really be done until the game has been finished. As for making a great game, this is probably a little less luck-based, but also something that one of the latest episodes of Penny Arcade’s Extra Credits has more information on.

Antichamber has you progressing through puzzles with increasing complexity, but not increasing difficulty. Once you know the solution, it’s relatively easy to progress to the next stage. While this is similar to portal, there’s a big difference. Bruce brought up the point that portal has you complete a puzzle and then makes the next stage slightly more complex, taking what you already know and either combining or adding extra steps. In Antichamber, there is a bit of this, but a lot of it involves approaching puzzles from an entirely different direction (sometimes literally). It also involves you gradually discovering abilities of your gun which it always had, but you you weren’t aware of which is an interesting concept when you consider that these abilities would have helped you in earlier puzzles.

Ah yes... this is what we call in the industry: Indie Wank.
Ah yes… this is what we call in the industry: Indie Wank.

Of course, lateral thinking can be incredibly frustrating when your mind just isn’t making the connection it needs to make. I’ve been playing for 4 hours now and an hour of that was spent wandering around aimlessly (also literally, there’s a lot of that going around in this review) because I hadn’t made a connection from earlier about how to create new blocks.  There are also these little panels throughout the maze that is Antichamber with little hints or proverbial statements that aren’t really hints until you know exactly what they’re hinting at. Normally this kind of thing annoys me, and despite the above caption, the proverbs were very general and were a bit of fun throughout the game, essentially marking achievements.

This game is definitely worthy of your attention and of the all the awards it’s received. Any game that is trying something new and original and, even more importantly, has succeeded at at being original and new should be tried out by all. $20 might be a little too expensive for some, but if you pay attention to Steam, there will bound to be a sale which reduces that. You could also criticise the simple graphics, but they don’t really detract from the game. It’s probably just as well the graphics don’t go beyond a handful of colours  considering sheer amount of processing power my computer would need to run it. But then again, it’s much more likely that my computer could handle the puzzles and physically-defying landscape this game provides a lot better than my own mind can.

Antichamber is currently available from Steam for $19.99.



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