Antichamber – Review

Antichamber wants to screw with you. An abstract puzzle game, it exists in a world built upon its own rules, requiring you to shed conventional logic and adopt an out of the box mindset to progress through the labyrinthine chamber you find yourself in. Up is down, going backwards moves you forward, and nothing can be taken at face value. It’s one of the smartest games I’ve ever played; thoughtfully evolving at every step, as my feeble brain scrambled to keep up.

To attempt and describe Antichamber would be counterproductive, and a rather hopeless task. The foundation of the experience is designed around self discovery and interpretation, making any outside explanation of how to solve the absurdly clever puzzles and navigate the twisting level layouts detrimental to someone playing the game for the first time. At its core, Antichamber involves manipulating the rules of its world to allow you to overcome seemingly impossible tasks and continue onward toward the next puzzle. More often than not this involves interacting with blocks placed throughout, by way of a gun whose functions extend far beyond the simple ability to move and delete.

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Though outwardly simplistic and plain, Antichamber’s art direction (and to a lesser extent its sound design) is as purposely and meticulously designed as its puzzles; with clean lines and intelligent use of color all playing a large role in telegraphing integral aspects of the puzzles. Its basic graphical design also accounts for a huge portion of how atmospheric Antichamber can be. Often times I’d find myself so drawn into the experience that I’d look up to find to my surprise I’d been engross in it for hours, as time becomes rather meaningless once you begin to make your way through the chamber. It feels like being inside an abstract painting, with as much artistry and inverted syllogism as you would expect.

The moments when you manage to solve a puzzle and move forward in Antichamber is one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve ever had in a puzzle game, which is why it’s unfortunate that its intelligence can at times become a handicap; blocking the player from continuing onward and giving little knowledge of how to do so or where they might should head in instances where it’s functionally impossible to progress without collecting an upgrade first. This is a deliberate aspect of Antichamber’s design and a large factor in why solving its conundrums is so empowering, but it has the unshakable counter effect of turning people away on the basis that the game is simply too smart for them (especially early on). It’s a shame because once you begin to understand the way the world works the game really opens up and you can finally appreciate it in all its glory, but to get there you’ll inevitably be hitting your head against the wall quite a bit as you try to make sense of it all.

Final Word

Antichamber is a rather intimidating game even to those with a mind for puzzles and an ease at thinking irrationally, but its one that’s worth forcing yourself through the first few confounding hours for the brilliant moments of understanding that follow. The ingenuity of Alexander Bruce’s abstruse creation is mindboggling (which I mean quite literally), and an incredible accomplishment that I honestly cannot believe came together without falling apart under the weight of its own ambition. I still only barely understand it, but even my limited intelligence can appreciate how remarkable Antichamber is; making me feel clever even as I can feel it silently mocking me for being the comparative imbecile I am.

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Antichamber was developed by Alexander Bruce and is available on PC, Mac, and Linux via Steam.

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