I love surrealism. From the paintings of Salvador Dalí to the TV-show Adventure Time, I love how bizarre and creative our imaginations can be, with many artists using this form of art for expressing philosophical thoughts. Now, this does not mean of course that if something is art or surreal, it automatically qualifies as good. Art is, according to the Oxford dictionary, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” I say this because it often becomes a trump card to say “since it’s art, it is good” or “I don’t think it is art as I don’t like it” which might be some of the dumbest things I have ever heard. With Antichamber, I luckily avoided hearing this argument. Actually I coincidentally stumbled upon it while I was looking around online. I had no idea what to expect, but the simplistic presentation was captivating, and after checking Wikipedia, it intrigued me and pulled me in.
Not everything is what it seems
Playing in first person view with only the ability to jump and interact with objects being available, you will be exploring a bizarre labyrinth that is very reminiscent to a metroidvania. The game starts out beautifully, tricking your mind and makes you look at puzzles in bizarre, yet somewhat logical ways. Each is complemented by a billboard that has a small thought-provoking line, giving each puzzle a deeper meaning. A good example was a puzzle that had me look closely to make another room appear, complemented by the text stating “A window of opportunity can lead to new places, if you are willing to take a closer look”. The game is heavily focused on your interactions with each place, both by how you look and proceed, which is amazing.
There are plenty of ways to go and helping you navigate through this maze, is a hubworld which you can warp to at any time. From here, there is a map to warp back to locations you have visited, as well as giving you small hints on where your next objective is. This is a neat way of showing where to go without telling you how to get there, keeping you thinking on how to proceed. While you can explore many areas, you won’t be able to proceed far without the next mechanic the game introduces: a gun that can manipulate blocks. This becomes heavily utilized for plenty of creative puzzles, such as consuming blocks from letters to create a bridge. These puzzles do get more creative with different ways to solve them and you will even get more guns with more uses, allowing you to venture even further.
What is a huge shame however, is that the puzzles becomes less interesting, since the game will quickly shift focus to the gunplay instead of the original aspects it started out with. Adding to the shortcomings, is the problematic aiming due to how precise your shots must be. The fact that you must at times make tight jumps, with your jump height and length being very short, it makes it frustrating when platforming is involved. Because of this, some of the newer puzzles can be irritating, especially when some have a time limit to them. It is still enjoyable and creative, but definitely a big downfall compared to the earlier puzzles. This can also be shown by the fewer quotable lines that appear as you get more upgraded guns.
Antichamber does stay solid as a creative metroidvania. There are plenty of well thought out puzzles, but it is an incredible shame that it never goes beyond the concept it started out with and rather focuses on the block-guns. Still, those were also enjoyable despite some minor control-issues, and I was happy to feel like I learned and experienced something worthwhile.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
Having most what you see be in the color white, creates this empty, yet not unsettling feeling as you traverse through this world. This is an excellent idea, as it creates the illusion of visiting a museum where the colors and “expositions”, such as puzzles, get much more focus and triggers more emotions and thoughts, due to contrasting with the bleak world around you. All you will see might be familiar, but at the same time strange and simple with strong colors. It becomes a captivating presentation that makes the important elements shine and be much more effective. Helping this, are also the puzzles that require you to look closer to find clearer solutions, which are the highlights.
Complementing this feeling of visiting a museum, is the ambient sound. Again, it feels rather empty and almost lonely, but comfortable. It creates this calm atmosphere, with simple sound effects being what you will hear the most. Unfortunately, since you will pass through a lot of hallways, the presentation can become bleak due to some clear downtime, and the puzzles that do not focus on visual interactions, become uninteresting as the game goes on. Despite this, it creates a memorable atmosphere and presentation that is hard to forget.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Time is of the essence and you can only see so much
All of the billboards are fascinating to read and due to them being nearby a puzzle themselves, I wanted to find all of them. It is a very simple, but intriguing way of giving some form of replay value. The secret rooms to search out for are also a fun extra, despite them being very hard to find. The only thing I was confused about, was the time limit. While it will normally take 5-7 hours to finish the game (and more if you go for the hidden extras), you can speedrun this game and try to complete it in less than one and a half our. This is fun to try out, but does not complement the game’s calmer aspect, especially when it clearly states “Life is not about the end”. You don’t get much from it either, so instead take your time and explore. You will feel much more fulfilled by doing so.
Extra Score: 8/10
Antichamber was a gripping journey. It felt like really being in a museum that actually challenged you to think differently to proceed, which is quite a feat. The presentation is lovely and while the puzzles were at their strongest before the gunplay was introduced, it was all a joyful time. After the credits rolled, you will really understand the title and it really is one of the better endings that needs some speculations. A museum trip worth taking.