The Escher complex of ‘Antichamber’

AntichamberLogoSay you’re looking at a stapler. From any given perspective, it remains a stapler. Now imagine the stapler changes depending on where you’re sitting.

This can only happen in a world where perspective, space and geometry are separate from reality.

Enter the world of “Antichamber,” a first-person PC puzzler developed by industry newcomer Alexander Bruce. Bruce has been working on the game for four years. What he accomplished is incredible.

“Antichamber” is a frustratingly abstract, Escher-like dreamscape that operates on the bare minimum of lineal logic. It’s so abstract that it’s difficult to explain.

To add to the confusion, gamers play a nameless protagonist who may or may not exist. There is no pause screen. All the menus are in game.

The player operates within ever-changing parameters. Many times, the environment will shift and change altogether when one turns his or her back.

These invisible transitions occur smoothly. Save for the occasional graphical glitch, “Antichamber” also holds up well aesthetically.

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The bright are rich and bright, and the comic book style cel shading gives the game an even more unique style.

The mechanics are simple and intuitive: The WASD keys control movement, and left clicking allows the player to interact with the environment.

Early on in the game, you’re given a gun-like device that absorbs blocks from the environment. In one instance after you’ve first gotten the device, you’re faced with a door blocked with green bars.

These bars are made of individual green cubes that, when clicked, are sucked into your gun and turned into another color.

These blocks are used to build bridges and solve puzzles. But the puzzles and problems aren’t solved in the traditional way. Nothing about the game, besides the first-person perspective, is traditional.

“Antichamber” doesn’t deal in the literal or rational mechanics of other first-person puzzlers such as Valve’s “Portal” or Toxic Games’ “Q.U.B.E.”

The entire game challenges the player to think outside of traditional problem solving and geometry.

In this world, the impossible is not only possible, but it is required to progress.

You also never fully get your bearings. No room is like the last, and it’s not safe to take things at face value. In one sequence, you enter a room with nine boxes that have frozen figures and geometric configurations in them. Depending on what side of the boxes you look at, a different still life is represented. The feeling of uncertainty this creates becomes overwhelming.

But the game is at once isolating and warm, and it’s no coincidence its alternate title is “Hazard: The Journey of Life.” Everything changes, and that’s the point.

After each puzzle is completed, the game delivers a saying to the player that effectively transforms your trials and tribulations into a metaphor.

For example, falling into a pit means certain death in any other game. In “Antichamber,” the game encourages the player with a message on the wall that reads, “Failure to succeed does not mean failure to progress.”

But with traditional game mechanics so ingrained, failing to succeed feels like failure. Nevertheless, the innovation here is undeniable.

In the end, “Antichamber” is the growth of an intellectual newborn through non-Euclidean space. The player is thrust into wholly unfamiliar territory and left to fend for themselves.

If you’re willing to experience this helplessness, try “Antichamber.” Everyone needs to step out comfort zones every once and awhile, and this journey through a constantly evolving world allows for just that.

Game: Antichamber

Developer: Alexander Bruce

Platform: PC

Rating: 4