Reviewed by: Tracy Benson
There’s something to be said about comfort zones. We have genres that we’re used to, tricks that we know, intuitions that we’ve learned over years or decades of gaming. Then, a game like Antichamber comes along and crowbars all that knowledge out of your head, leaving you to learn how to walk all over again.
Described as a “mind-bending psychological exploration game where nothing can be taken for granted” by developer Alexander Bruce, Antichamber takes you around a world inspired by M.C. Escher where nothing moves in a straight line. Hallways wrap back onto themselves, spaces reconfigure their shapes, and walls disappear and reappear as you move through the stark, black and white levels. Vivid splashes of colour show up seemingly at random, but act as guides or occasionally misdirections. It feels like what would happen if you combined LSD with a Möbius strip.
Trying to understand Antichamber means forgetting everything you’ve ever learned. Forget ideas like depth perception, spatial awareness and object permanence. Sometimes, the way to move forward is to walk backwards. Sometimes, the view through a window can take you an entirely different room. Sometimes, if the game says JUMP!!, you shouldn’t listen to it. Sometimes, when the game says WFT?!, you’ll wholeheartedly agree.
There’s no traditional sense of plot in Antichamer, nor is there a tutorial. The game starts you in a blank room, where you can see your control scheme and settings on one wall, and a map on the other. All you need to do is choose a room from the map and go exploring. The game teaches you as you go. There are posters on the walls that give you little insights to the game, more often than not telling you how to solve the puzzle you just finished. These posters can be viewed back in the hub, telling you a bit of a story while giving you an insight as to how much ground you’ve covered. Your map dynamically updates as well, and shows you where you started, where you’ve been and the path you took to get there.
To call this a first-person puzzle-solving game feels like an injustice, but at its core that’s what Antichamber is. The first person element might draw comparisons to Portal, but that’s where the similarities end. There isn’t any dialogue to serve as a distraction, there aren’t any NPC’s, there’s barely any ambient noise. There’s just you and the puzzles that you need to solve to move forward. Or backwards in some cases.
At its heart, I think Antichamber was a pure learning experience. By constantly teaching you new things, then asking you to apply them in many different ways, it guides you slowly through a world with no preconceived rules. It hurt my brain on more than one occasion, and I got exceptionally frustrated on several of the puzzles, but never have I felt so rewarded for solving them. With a wink and a nod, the posters would give me cryptic clues and I’d move on, more determined than before.
Full play-throughs can take anywhere between 6-8 hours, with some rooms left over to explore. With practice, you can complete the game in less than half an hour as well. If you’re the intensely curious type like I am, you’re also rewarded with Easter Eggs rooms scattered throughout the map, that delve into the “back-end mechanics” of how the developers made the crazy world you find yourself in. Almost like hidden developer diaries, these rooms are a fascinating insight into the detail of how the game came into existence and the mechanics behind how it works. But you’ll have to work to find them.
There’s so much more that can be said about Antichamber, but truthfully it would ruin the experience. This is honestly a game that the less you know about it, the better. Go into your time with Antichamber with a fresh and empty mind, you’ll be rewarded for it greatly.
Lasting Appeal: 8/10
Reviewed on PC. Available on Steam.