Square Enix's decision to split Final Fantasy VII Remake into multiple installments may harm the game for one big reason.
Antichamber will trick, deceive, and downright befuddle anyone who tries to approach it as a traditional puzzle game. This is a game that utilizes the ideas of perception and perspective in such a menagerie of different ways, and being able to properly juggle all these mechanics at play is both supremely challenging and satisfying. But some problems with its open endedness and its lack of tutorials hinder Antichamber in some key areas.
Antichamber isn’t a standard puzzle adventure in which you move on from one obstacle to the next. It takes on an open world approach, with varying paths that lead you to separate rooms. At any time, you can open a map and simply choose to go to any specific area you want. This form of non-linearity is one of Antichamber’s biggest strengths, as well as its most frustrating flaw. The open ended world allows the game to connect the rooms in some interesting fashions, and the way a puzzle game can make you feel like in you’re in one huge, persistent environment is definitely intriguing. But because you’re able to go anywhere you want, you might end up in situations where you simply don’t have the necessary tools to solve a puzzle. You’ll be obtaining different guns with unique abilities throughout the game, and these powers will be needed to get through certain challenges. I often faced enigmas where I was unsure if the reason I was unable to figure out a solution was due to my sheer stupidity, or if it was because I was lacking the proper device. Due to that nagging thought in the back of my head, I was always apprehensive of trying to really hunker down and think out a puzzle for fear of just wasting my time.
That being said, all of the hurdles that you encounter will be new and exciting, as each puzzle seems to implement a whole new twist to how the physics of the world works. Although the game starts off relatively simple, it quickly ramps up and forces you to think outside the box. The theme of perception permeates the beginning of the game. If you’re unable to get through a puzzle, it’s most likely because you’re approaching it at the wrong perspective, both literally and figuratively. It’s fascinating to experience how Antichamber is always shifting your surroundings in manners you would never expect.
But once you acquire a gun that lets you pick up and carry blocks is when the puzzles really begin to get devious. Antichamber uses these blocks and creates some of the most mind bending puzzles imaginable. Once you access some of the later weapons in the game that manipulate blocks in more inventive methods is when the game really requires careful considerations of everything you’ve learned thus far. The game rewards experimenting and tinkering with how these blocks function in specific situations, and knowledge of how the physics operate will be instrumental in solving some of the later, more demanding puzzles.
These block puzzles, however, can get difficult to the point of frustration. With no tutorials, Antichamber forces you to monkey around to learn all of the necessary mechanics, and enough tinkering will usually lead to a moment of clarity that will no doubt help you solve that puzzle you were banging your head on. That wonderful lightning bolt of elucidation is the beauty and draw of a game like Antichamber. But there were enough times where I felt that some gameplay elements were far too esoteric to figure out on your own, and the lack of any sort of context or tutorial was aggravating in those specific spots. I have no shame in admitting that I had to look up some solutions on YouTube, as some puzzles get damn confusing.
Antichamber’s cohesive visual aesthetic is one of its strongest points. Antichamber is basically an MC Escher painting come to life, with unusual angles and a constant shifting of perspectives that will defy logic and reality. Although most walls are merely blank white slates, the elaborate architecture that is usually packed in every puzzle will have you marveling at the intricate design. The game is constantly pulling tricks on you too, whether it’s by transforming the scenery when you’re not looking, or even just by deliberately lying to you. And for a game with no voice acting and almost no music, it’s crazy how Antichamber somehow instills a sense of creepiness into its ambience. This feeling of uneasiness really kicks into high gear near the end of the game, and it was fantastic to see how a puzzle game with no actual story can induce a palpable tone and atmosphere.
Antichamber is a game that will make you feel like both a fool and a genius many times as you plow through its byzantine puzzles. This is a game that rewards experimentation, and those that want to explore every nook and cranny of its physics will find that there are a lot of different systems working in conjunction with one another. In addition, its excellent design makes witnessing all the ways Antichamber plays around with perspective and perception a rewarding experience. It’s just a shame that some issues with its open world and a few major spikes in difficulty in later puzzles sometimes bogged certain aspects of the game down.