First posted on 20 August 2013. Last updated on 10 September 2013.
|Some messages may not be as cryptic as others.|
|Random iconographs offer some insights to the chambers' diabolical puzzles.|
|Some parts of the chambers are disorientating to navigate.|
|A few instructions are to be followed, literally.|
|Is there an end?|
Antichamber is a game that is hard to explain with words. Australian indie game developer Alexander Bruce has managed to create a stunning, surreal, and diabolical first-person puzzle platformer that will leave most players both baffled and intrigued. Originally titled Hazard: The Journey of Life, Antichamber may be described as Portal on LSD. However, such mere comparison does no justice to the intense psychological experience that this game delivers.
Antichamber has no proper story to tell. You start the game inside a seemingly isolated chamber. Your only interaction is with a wall that sets various system options for the game and another wall that displays an overhead map of the maze of chambers. Clicking on the map transports you to a different chamber, from where you can begin your exploration.
As you progress in Antichamber, distant resemblance to Portal is immediately obvious. Like that game, you seem to take on the role of some faceless test subject trapped inside a remote facility, with no memory of why you are there and what you are tasked to do. You also carry a gun. However, rather than shooting out portals through which you can traverse across otherwise unreachable spaces, the gun shoots out small cubes of different colors with which you can use to activate various mechanisms inside the chambers. The similarities between these games end here, though. Soon, you will be engrossed by the sleek but yet minimalistic graphics that command a foreboding mysteriousness to this alienating space. As well, you will discover that the laws of physics somehow do not apply inside these chambers. Going up or down a flight of stairs does not necessarily lead you to higher or lower grounds. Turning around to backtrack on your path may not always return you to where you have just been. Supposedly, the game explores the notion of non-Euclidian geometry to create a strange, recursive, and unfamiliar world. Fortunately, the earlier chambers provide a sort of training grounds, where you are taught to understand the obscure logics that govern this world. Even so, it is inevitable that, within the first few minutes of playing this game, you will find yourself circling back to the same room or getting stuck in a room with no clue on what to do next. With time, however, you will start to recognize patterns in the misdirection and use it to make progress in the world. For example, you will discover floors or walls that disappear only when you approach them while gazing away from them. As strange and bizarre as these environmental cues are, they are also coherent and predictable. Making sense of the world's internal logics is the best part of playing this game. Admittedly, the game has a steep learning curve that may discourage some players. However, if you can persevere through the initial anarchy, your curiosity will be rewarded.
The graphics play an important role in Antichamber. The minimal details and pervasive white spaces aid to give a sense of surrealism to the alien world. Bright spots of color here and there help to orientate you in the otherwise featureless maze of rooms and corridors. Additionally, the repetitive musical hum in the background works to heighten your anticipation as you explore each chamber.
The interface in Antichamber is nearly nonexistent. There is no distracting inventory to manage. The only equipment that you carry is a gun with which you can collect cubes found in some of the chambers. All of the puzzles in the game are solved by using the gun to move, create, or destroy the cubes in order to trigger certain mechanisms in the chambers. Most mechanisms will open doors to the neighboring chambers. Other mechanisms will activate lifts or trigger other contraptions. As you progress, you will upgrade to different colored guns, each with a different and progressively more powerful ability to manipulate these cubes. It is not necessary to carry more than a single gun, since any mechanism that can be triggered using the previous gun can always be triggered using the current gun as well.
Early on, you can only manipulate cubes of the same color as the color of the gun that you are currently carrying. This gives you a clue to as what mechanisms you can tackle first. The different guns will also let you experiment with different solutions to the same puzzles. As such, the game itself is both open and closed: there is no given track to follow to explore the chambers, and any accessible chamber can be explored in any order you want. To win, you only need to find a path that leads to the ending chamber in the game. I do not know if there is more a single way to finish the game. I will not be surprised, though, if there are other ways to fast track this most peculiar path to reach the end.
The game ends as cryptically as it begins. At the beginning of the game, you see a countdown clock on the wall. Yet, you are never told to why it is there or what happens when the countdown expires. The ending of the game is, predictably, inconclusive as well. The game gives no explanation to you to make sense of the final revelation. Understandably, some players may find the lack of any substantial payoff at the end of the game unsettling. For this game, however, the journey is truly more important than the destination.
In all, there are no words that can adequately explain the experience of playing Antichamber. You simply need to play it for yourself to fully understand it. The game is extremely hard and dizzily frustrating. Yet, once you grasp the game's odd sense of logics, you will find the game to be a sandbox for creativity and lateral thinking. Antichamber is like no other games that you have played. It is among the most original and inventive games ever created in indie game development scene.