Critics often attempt to characterise Antichamber, an exploratory puzzle game from independent developer Alexander Bruce, as a “crazy trip” but while its non-Euclidian environments are occasionally maddening, there’s very little craziness to be found here. In fact quite the opposite is true, it’s the game’s consistent internal logic that makes its puzzles such a joy to decipher. It may ask you to think differently in order to traverse the unfamiliar geometry and altered space of its minimalist world, but importantly, it never asks to abandon what it’s taught you.
Speaking of teaching, the game isn’t content to simply tutor you through its six hours of puzzles, it wants to leave you with some life lessons as well. Early on players reach a chasm with the words “jump” floating above it. If they take this advice they will fall short and end up in a pit. The solution, they will discover later, is to simply walk across the gap as a bridge forms improbably beneath them.
For the time being however, they are at the bottom of a pit, faced with a passage that leads to another wing of Antichamber’s non-linear maze (this non-linearity helps the game avoid the equipment gated design that constrains games like Super Metroid and Zelda). As they follow it they will pass a sign that reads: “Failure to succeed does not mean failure to progress.” It’s doesn’t rival Adorno or Aristotle but Antichamber’s philosophical musings do much to encourage and reward the player, as well as occasionally prodding them in the right direction.
The placards are only one element of a diverse toolbox that encompasses audio cues, sparse but important uses of colour, visual illusion and other tricks in order to guide the player. Unfortunately, due to the choice to make the settings menu an in game room, there doesn’t appear to be a choice to raise the resolution above 1920×1200. Coupled with a few blurry textures this graphical infidelity stands at odds with the straight lines and stark contrast of the Escher-like world and is a technical flaw in an otherwise beautifully realised and aesthetically focused game.
As players progress they attain a series of guns that aid their exploration. These guns are never used violently but encourage players to approach puzzles with their weapon’s unique abilities in mind. These new tools, along with new objects and conditions in the environment itself, keeps the puzzles fresh for the game’s duration.
Occasionally the imagination of Antichamber’s design gets the best of it, forcing players to restart areas and rethink their approach, but frustration never overcame curiosity in my experience. It helps that at any point players can warp to a room containing an over-world map, get their bearings, and then warp back to any destination they’ve previously discovered. This device doesn’t feel out of place in an already dreamlike world and is one of many examples of Antichamber privileging player experience over realism.
Antichamber is a resounding success but to explain much more would diminish its effect. You deserve to see it for yourself.