I didn’t expect it to be so soon into 2013, but Antichamber has already reset the bar for the indie gaming experience. Dropped into a world reminiscent of a lovechild between Portal and echochrome, Antichamber pulls back all the modern “bigger is better” gaming conventions in lieu of a psychological series of discoveries. With little more instruction than use WASD for movement and jump with the spacebar, players are left to their own devices to solve puzzles in an initially monochromatic labyrinth that will have them questioning their environment and core gaming instincts.
Once you start traversing Antichamber’s corridors, you will learn to soon distrust yourself and everything around you. There are no homicidal robots driving the game’s story forward; the lack of a strong narrative is actually part of its overall charm. Players are instead greeted with placards on walls after overcoming puzzles – and often failing them – with minor hints on upcoming challenges or commentary on recently conquered experiences. One of the best early examples of Antichamber’s light comedic touch is a placard of a dog chasing its own tail, found on the wall after running down the same corridor a few times. You’ll feel similar disdain from the environment when you find yourself going up and down stairs expecting the level to progress accordingly, only to realize the best way to go forward is to go backwards. Upon turning around, you’ll discover the very corridor you came from has changed and it is now where you must go. Antichamber isn’t your regular forward-progressing game, and I absolutely love that aspect of the challenge.
Antichamber’s environments look as if they were lucid M.C. Escher dreams smattered Andy Warhol’s vibrant pop art coloring. Though nothing instructs you to do so, you might find yourself compulsively walking towards objects colored green and avoiding the red ones, or turning around when you hear ambient crickets as you go down a hallway. Your instincts should serve as a strong basis for what to expect and how to progress, until you walk past a pillar and out of the corner of your eye you see yourself standing between two differently colored versions of the same environment, two mirror universes begging you to feed into your curiosity and go further down one of the rabbit holes.
The only means of escape when you find yourself trapped is hitting ESC, which brings you back to the very first chamber you found yourself in when the game began. At that point of frustration I recommend reorienting yourself, then fast traveling back into the room where your headlong strides were met with four blank walls and a sense of despair. Sometimes in Antichamber, you can’t even trust the walls.
Antichamber’s progressively mind-bending mechanics take a leap forward once you discover a tool that allows you to collect and move blocks about the environment. These blocks are useful for platforming as you’d expect, but they can also be used as keys for opening doors and as doorstops to keep paths open for you. I’d go further into the beautiful simplicity of using these blocks, but those unexplained mechanics are part of the core of Antichamber- you figure out what things do and how they work by doing them. If something doesn’t work, try something else, and if THAT doesn’t work, spitefully walking backwards towards where you wanted to move forward might actually surprise you as it did me.
As much as I can praise Antichamber, the game is definitely not for everyone. There are no juvenile training levels to teach you how the game works, no Michael Bay-scale explosions, and no characters violently rampaging while on vulgar tirades. You are your worst enemy in Antichamber, and if you can’t handle solving spatial and environmental puzzles I know of a few black ops groups who are hurting for new members nowadays.
Gamers who loved the feeling of exploration and satisfying “A-HA!” moments found in the Portal series should definitely give this game a try. Antichamber is a simple game that is simply brutal, but the best things in life often are.
Antichamber is available now on Steam.