Oh, so you played the early version of the game back in 2009, the much circulated Hazard: A Journey Of Life? Trust me; you haven’t seen anything yet. That four-year-old project has since been tightened up, the less cohesive parts thrown out and the good bits shined to a glaring sheen. But you will have the very basic concept of Antichamber firm in your head, hopefully. At its most basic, it’s a first person puzzler. And that’s about as ‘typical’ of any other game it gets.
Alexander Bruce, the game’s tireless developer, has been working hard to ensure that every nook and cranny within Antichamber goes against traditional practices. The multiple connected chambers that form the structure are full of non-Euclidean spaces and optical illusions. Walls shift when you’re not looking at them, messages written in mid-air tell lies and shortcuts are hidden just out of plain sight. Things happen that are only possible in virtual simulation, and it’s never been done to the quality and scale that Antichamber houses. Many awards have been handed to Alex for what I can only call his masterpiece – if he ever manages to top this at any point in his life, I’ll be highly suprised. But, then again, that state was what I felt for the majority of my first playthrough of the game. And it didn’t end there either, but more on that later…
“I went through sickness, depression and insanity making it…”
When you enter Antichamber, there’s no dramatics. There’s not even a traditional menu screen – you plow straight through into your central hub of Antichamber. It’s the place that you can always retreat to with a simple press of the Esc key, handy when getting stuck or needing a break, or maybe just to observe how far you’ve progressed. There are four walls in this room, each of them important to observe. First off, you have the menu wall which explains the controls, offers a few options for screen resolution and the like and, most interestingly, there’s a timer counting down from 1 hour and 30 minutes. You won’t complete the game in this time, not right now, but it is definitely possible once you know how this mysterious place works and can navigate through its puzzles without so much as a second thought.
The next wall shows you a map overview of the Antichamber. The place that you’ve wound up and now need to solve should you ever want to sleep at night. Without exaggeration, I can say that Antichamber drives an obsession in you. It’s the way its laid out, how it constantly gives you fresh challenges, and even after 90% of the game is behind you, it still manages to make you murmur, “wow,” somehow. It’s an incredible experience, especially if you’re fond of intelligent design, beating the impossible, finding out about yourself or just enjoy well-designed puzzles. You’ll move through a series of mechanics, some of which will last longer than others, but because of the non-linear layout and the multiple solutions to each puzzle, you barely ever feel like you’re going over old ground.
Progression through puzzles is had a fast rate, and they just keep coming and coming to the point at which you’ll have to slow things down yourself just to consider which path to take next. Of course, some areas are restricted by the need for certain abilities that can only be obtained by collecting a certain matter-collecting gun. To get that, you’ll first need to manipulate how your brain works. Which leads me to conclude that the mathematics behind it all must be very complicated, and having actually glimpsed upon some of it within one of the game’s secrets, I know they are – mostly you’ll go behind the scenes of the game itself when stumbling into a secret. It’s all kept visual, abstract and often times beautiful to behold, though – there’s no number counting here or any other tedium. You’ll find hidden passages in the dark, fall through technicolor shafts and wind around Escher-like architecture that seems to make no sense. But first off, you’ve only got one option on the map to travel to, and I’m jealous that you get to go through that whole process of discovery for the first time, and I can’t live it quite the same way again.
The other wall showcases a number of pictures. You’ll acquire these as you begin to chisel through the interior of Antichamber, each one representing a success. They’re not just pictures, though, as there’s also some text to be revealed upon clicking, giving these black and white panels two purposes. The first one is to supply clues for you. Sometimes they’re vital to understanding the task at hand; other times they warn you to not do something in this brilliant game of psychology. “Don’t Look Down,” reads one of them after you’ve craned your neck to look straight up. Can you trust these messages, or are they just out to deceive and mock you? You’ll find out soon enough. The other purpose they serve is mostly realized when they’re discovered after having beaten a section, and usually at this point they tap into the game’s uplifting tale of life and how we live it. You’ll see your flaws and strengths painted all over Antichamber, and because of this it makes you a more determined player and a better person outside of the game. Potentially, at least. It has a powerful message for you to explore, causing you to reach within yourself and take a good look at how you go about your daily routine. It makes you raise questions. You probably won’t expect how powerful it can be.
Lastly, if you turn to your right you’ll see the window, which quite tantalizingly shows three closed doors on the other side. The middle one has four letters above it: EXIT. From the very start of the game you are shown the end, the lingering taunt that is situated just on the other side of a pane of glass. You’re always aware of how close it is, and how far away you remain given the amount of solving that lays ahead. It’s much like the mysterious black cube that floats around just out of reach. What does this symbolize? You might be able to hazard a guess, but you have so much to see yet, and so much to learn. On the topic of exits, let’s get out of here and on to the next chamber. Always trust the arrows.