Alexander Bruce

It’s not what you know, it’s what you can figure out: the joy of Antichamber

It’s not what you know, it’s what you can figure out: the joy of Antichamber

We live within a system of rules, and we take them for granted. We know where the bathroom is, and we can walk there in the dark. There is a firm ground beneath our feet, and that ground doesn’t rely on us observing it to exist. When we close our eyes and throw something in the air, it’s going to rise, slow, stop, and then begin to fall back down to earth. A door can only lead to one location. Antichamber, which is a sort of first-person environmental puzzle game, offers a nice escape from all this dreary reality. All of the normal rules of reality are in play, and you can’t rely on any of them. It’s not about using what you know from past games, or even physics itself, it’s about what you can figure out about your environment. It takes away your ability to assume anything about where you’re going, and especially about where you’ve been.

Puzzles of perception

You can’t assume anything in the world of Antichamber. It’s hard to talk about the game without giving away the answers to any of the puzzles, although it’s hard to even say the game has discrete puzzles. There is one environment made up of connected rooms and hallways, and it’s your job to find the end. There are hints written on the walls, and you’ll sometimes find text in odd places. Moving ahead means getting rid of your existing ideas of how space works. We may think that we can turn around and return to our starting point, but what if back-tracking took you someplace new? A note telling you to jump may give you a hint about how to move forward, or it could be misdirection. You’ll never fail, not exactly, but you may not always find what you’re looking for. How you move, where you look, and what you learn about the world around you will all be useful tools in trying to explore more of the area in which you find yourself. There is something both disorienting and freeing about this style of puzzle. Many of the games we play make use of the vocabulary we’ve built up from years of playing games. Most games operate in familiar ways: We know to look under stairs to find items, we know that a new gun means a boss is near, and we know we can find our way out of a maze by following a single wall. Antichamber requires you not only to forget about those rules, but to actively work against them. In many ways someone who is unfamiliar with video games will be playing with an advantage, as they won’t be saddled with preconceived notions about how to explore this sort of world in the first person. Alexander Bruce has been working on Antichamber for a very long time, and the story behind the game is nearly as interesting as the game itself. I’ve been lucky enough to play through the early puzzles multiple times at events, and this near-finished build shows the exacting attention to detail that went into the game. When you play a game at multiple points in its development cycle you begin to see the hand of the creator, and the many tweaks and adjustments that have been made to the game since my last session have improved the game in many small ways. It's a hard game to describe without giving away its charms, but it's rare to play anything that asks you to start from scratch in terms of what you know about the world. We'll give you a full review when the game is released on PC in the near future, but for now this continues to be a game to watch.