Antichamber, developed by Alexander “Demruth” Bruce, is the kind of game that appeals to so many of my desires for a video game that I fail to see how I could write anything about it without sounding like a gushing fan. Fitting neatly into the puzzle platformer category, it shows obvious similarities to Portal — first-person perspective, a non-lethal gun, puzzles, a desire to escape. However, once you progress past even the simplest puzzle, you gain a greater idea of what Antichamber is trying to do (to you). The effect is so satisfying, you’ll be tempted to restart entirely once you’ve finished it.
Games like Portal, Super Meat Boy, and Limbo give you rules you can depend on: your abilities work the same way throughout each game, gravity will always drag you in one direction, and walls are firm and immovable. Antichamber defies any semblance of expectations, reasonable or otherwise. Although there is gravity that drags you downwards, you can’t rely on downwards to actually mean, “below.” If that doesn’t make sense, then you probably already get the idea. On top of navigating a giant maze, you’ll find that some rooms connect in impossible ways, such as stairs that continually lead you back to themselves. Over the course of this 10-hour gem, you will be presented with puzzles that task you with taking them head-on or finding another way. Sometimes, the best solution is to stop trying to do the same thing over and over, and other times, you’ll only be rewarded for being almost laughably persistent. In Antichamber, some walls aren’t firm, you’re not always expected to go forward, and there are some puzzles you can’t solve. What you see is not always what you get.
It becomes increasingly obvious that Antichamber doesn’t take place in any world you or I know, and it tries exceedingly hard to break you down before it builds you up. Showing similarities to the Metroidvania genre, one of the ways you are built up is by gaining a “gun” that becomes increasingly useful as you upgrade it. When you initially acquire it, it has the ability to absorb colored blocks, one at a time, and shoot them back out in the same way. These blocks can be used as platforms to get over pits and ledges, or they can trigger doors controlled by nearby lasers. Upgrades take this block shooting/absorbing gun to unpredictable levels, and revealing its utility would only ruin the fun. Suffice it to say that even the blocks have rules that govern them, and learning to manipulate them, your environment, and yourself is the only way to progress.
Antichamber lacks a traditional story. Although you are quite clearly trapped in this warped world, there is no GLaDOS goading you nor any clear antagonist at all. You are purely driven by your own compulsion to proceed and succeed, but that does not mean there is no reward. The game works by conveying lessons or morals via interactive doodles found on the walls. You find these either before or after solving puzzles, and the lessons hiding behind each doodle reinforce what you may have just learned. However, in what I consider to be a beautiful twist, the lessons seems more to do with life than just the game (hearkening back to its original title, Hazard: The Journey of Life). By the end, you will have a collection of real and applicable life lessons, ones you never imagined would help you in a game.
Presentation is almost stripped bare. The majority of walls and objects are monochromatic with thin black outlines, with 3D objects projecting no shadows whatsoever. The effect is stark and may turn some players off, but it works with the Escher-esque navigation, and later areas start playing with color in both interesting and refreshing ways. In other words, if you keep at it, you shouldn’t be bored. Music and sounds are also minimalistic. Many of the rooms don’t have music at all, just odd sounds from nature, such as thunder or crickets chirping. The soundtrack seems tied to more revealing moments and larger accomplishments, becoming more noticeable and beautiful the deeper you delve. Again, some may find this polarizing compared to games with grand orchestras, obvious narratives, and realistic HD graphics, but I found true beauty in the simplicity.
Antichamber seriously rewarded me for my effort. Whenever I became stuck, I’d walk away or just explore until I’d slap myself and realize my own mistakes. It has a lot to teach and tell the deeper you go, and these payoffs are frequent enough that I recommend it for even casual gamers. It is special in that it exists outside the realm of gaming expectations, and finishing it makes you feel more accomplished than when you finish most boss fights. I highly recommend falling down this rabbit hole, but you might end up back where you jumped from. That’s a good thing.