It feels like whenever new consoles or tech are announced, endless sizzle reels are made with industry personnel championing the endless possibilities that this new shiny thing will bring, only to then reveal months later than they’re working on a sequel to their long-running franchise or a first person shooter with free-to-play elements.
Now I’m not disparaging anyone that enjoys those games, but I’ve always wanted to see that creative potential delivered on. I want to see things that I’d never really fathomed before that have no real-world equivalence. I want unapologetic nonsense.
I’ve tried to stop myself from praising works on sheer concept alone, independent of how well they’re delivered, but I can’t help but commend Antichamber for being such a creative outlier. It presents a lesson in subversion and clever design that’s hard to ignore, somehow creating consistency out of something inconsistent. There are rules, but they’re different from the ones we’re familiar with. Within the first 10 minutes, the game has a field day showing off its non-euclidean tricks, as if preparing you for something exponentially more mind-bending and sinister down the road… something that never comes.
Perhaps it’s unfair of me to expect a grand slam from one of the first games to ever step up to this particular plate, but Antichamber’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. It makes promises that it could never truly fulfill and seems to further lose its identity the longer you spend with it. After that initial opening mindscrew, you mentally prepare yourself for hours of illogical navigation, like a fun house patron wondering if the next room will offer mirrors or a ball pit or even if you stumbled into the haunted house by mistake, but soon after, the game introduces… a gun.
I’m forced to wonder at what point in the designing stage this was introduced, since it simultaneously adds to and takes away from what the game is able to accomplish. While the diluted sense of space is ever present for the remainder of the game, your progress becomes gated by your access to various cube-gun upgrades and your ability to solve puzzles dictating their use. One second, you’re in a cold clinical space where navigation is the only obstacle, then the next you’re using blocks as keys and platforms. Granted, it’s a very good and often clever mechanic, but one that seems to be in opposition to the messaging of the level design.
It feels like two different games forced to meet halfway due to a fear than neither were strong enough to sustain a six hour game on their own. Admitedly, they may have been right. The opening sequence feels like a demo for a very impactful one hour experience and perhaps that would have overstayed its welcome if left without any further iteration, but part of me wants to know what that one hour would have felt like, as I eventually hit a point in Antichamber where I had a dozen unsolved rooms on the map in front of me, unable to figure out which were clearable in that given moment.
Frustrations aside, it’s still something to be commended, and I think part of the reason the flaws stand out so much is because I’m so married to the idea of what it attempts to be, even if it doesn’t fully commit or hit its mark. That’s okay, sometimes. Antichamber doesn’t feel like it lacks effort at any point. It’s more a case of being ambitious to a fault, where the ability to execute on an idea doesn’t always realize the potential of it. As someone prone to chronic overreaching himself, I can respect that.