Monday, 28 October 2013

Antichamber: Journey to Escherian World of Impossible

Just like the pendulum that swings l i f e, so does my mood about Antichamber swings every so often. Now is on one side, in next moment on the other. Antichamber is a first person psychological exploration game that tries to twist Euclidean logic and prove it wrong. It is more than that, it is a game that draws inspiration from M. C. Escher's litographies and works in general featuring impossible realities.

The game as a whole is done in a clean, simplistic style. Everything is aesthetically pleasing, yet at the same time also ascetic in design. There is no unnecessary rooms, or an extra picture just to fill the blank. The blank in the game is there for a reason. And because, this is after all a puzzle game, it draws your attention to puzzles directly. There is nothing to distract you from this main objective that is never really stated.

As you move through the game, you start noticing ominous signs hanged on the walls. Every sign is sort of an allusion on what is to come. it is vague, and tells you nothing. But once you are past that puzzle, section might be a better word, there is immediately another sign. And once you read that second sign, you know immediately, allusion on what the previous sign was about.

The game is full of this unusual sense of humour. And it is not funny until you accept your role in the game. You are essentially trapped. When you enter the game there is no exit, you cannot exit. The opening screen throws you directly into the game. On one side there are all the tips you found on those signs across the game. On one side there are all the controls and graphic options listed. On the third side there is a map that is getting larger and larger as you go on through the game. And on the last one, there is a large glass window. A large glass window that stands in your way to the door above which says EXIT.

You learn soon enough, that the game cannot really be trusted. The game tries to have fun with you. The game lies to you, if that is possible. Maybe it is just a mirror of your own gullibility in the games that developed over the course of years you played them. The Exit doors, only say they are exit doors. If they truly are exit doors, well that is another question entirely.

When game gives help, it is only bare-bone hand holding. When you get a new toy, it only tells you what you can do with it, and how to do it. But it never tries to show you any more advanced way of doing things. That is for you yourself to discover on your own. In Antichamber, a lot of your time is spent backtracking. And that feeling of entrapment is well made, as every time you return to your map screen, there is a timer ticking.

What is frustrating about Antichamber is this lack of guidance. It is one thing to have the tools required and not knowing how to solve the problem. It is another problem entirely to realize that with your current tools, it is impossible to solve the problem at hand.. Soon after you start the game, you stumble upon a blue gun. No, it does not shoot bullets. You use the blue gun to absorb and release cubes in order to manipulate your surroundings. But soon enough, you will realize that the blue gun is not enough, that it is of no help on some particular puzzle you came across sooner than you should.

At that point, you might as well try and break down the wall with the power of your mind for all that it matters. If you do not realize you need to go somewhere else and hope to find something that would help you here, it is going to be frustrating. And that is part of its charm. It takes a poke at how very linear and helpful the games of today are. How the games of today try and teach you how to play them. Antichamber goes in the opposite direction. It relies in this training you went through in all those games. And then, tries to be as opposite to your usual logic as possible. You cannot just bash your head into a wall until it crumbles. And you learn this very fast in Antichamber. And then, when you think you finally got the feeling for the game, it shows you that, yes, yes you can bash your head through the wall.

Antichamber can at times be really frustrating because of two reasons. Either you do not know how to continue, or you are unable to realize you are not able to continue down this particular path you chose right now. The latter means you need to go somewhere else, and explore there first. The first one though, there is no help for the first one. And to be honest, once you have the required gun for the puzzle, it makes sense fast enough. If it does not, well, what can I say, tough. Good luck solving them, eh?

What I miss though, is the legend besides the map. The map itself makes sense. Once you make sense of it and figure out what means what. But until then, you might spend some unnecessary trips to the rooms from where you will not be able to progress. And in some rooms, you will have to backtrack a bit, as the cubes are required in order to then progress from where you were about to start.

At the end of it, the game is thought-provoking, imaginative and full of character. It gives you free reign from the very start. It does not try to limit you in any way, and no solution to some puzzle is false if it works. Even the most crazy and out of the picture ideas will work, if you set your mind to it. And at the bottom, this is what Antichamber tries to teach you as you play. That no matter the obstacle, you can always find a way across. Through your own effort and the use of what is available to you. That everyone has their own talents, they only need to make use of.

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