I’m one and a half hours into my play-through of Antichamber. I am convinced that I can beat it. I am also convinced that it’s going to take much, much longer than I originally thought.
The hardest part of starting this article was trying to figure out how to approach it. A perhaps ironic situation; as anyone who has attempted to, or succeeded in beating the game would know. There’s something about Antichamber that has completely broken the cycle of how and why I play games. Something that is so different from what I’ve grown accustomed to, and yet so familiar. It’s a feeling I get when I’m playing. Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve played a well made puzzle game. Maybe it’s been too long since I’ve played a single-player game I truly want to beat. I’m not entirely sure, but I’m here to do my best to put it into words.
Antichamber was designed and published by Alexander Bruce, under the publishing name of Demruth. The game was released on January 31st of 2013. You might say I’m a little late to the party. I don’t remember when, how, or why I got the game. It’s on my Steam list, and probably was tossed into some Humble Bundle or other. I do remember hearing about the game in its glory days. For a while it seemed like every YouTuber I followed or friend I talked to wanted to tell me about the experience they’d had with this game. It wasn’t the same as it is today, every personality grabbing onto an indie title they think will be the next hit, in order to catapult their Let’s Play career. These were genuine feelings of excitement. People truly overflowing with a need to tell other people and talk with them about the game.
There’s just something about Antichamber that does that to you. It strikes me as one of the truest forms of games. An incredible blend of elements that create an experience worth having. A goal put in front of you that changes constantly, forcing you to re-establish how you are viewing and playing the game itself. There are moments of self realization. Times where you are so absorbed into solving just this one thing, that you don’t notice 20 minutes pass by. Periods of sitting in the all-too-familiar main lobby, staring at the map. Thinking. None of this feels forced, overly frustrating, or even that demanding. Every puzzle I solve is a moment of “Well, of course that worked!” followed immediately by a desire to see what’s next. All of the concepts I’ve learned from the last puzzles helping me to think more abstractly about what I’ll do in the next one. I never feel like I’m failing. It just feels like I’m constantly learning.
You don’t just beat a game like Antichamber. The driving force behind completing the game isn’t just the need to win, it’s the constant moments of learning and surprise. It isn’t carried by a well known universe of characters and places. I’m not jumping around with Mario, fighting Orcs in Mordor, or attempting to destroy a base in one of a dozen MOBAs. This game doesn’t give any other reason for you to play it other than to experience it for yourself. The success of the title proves that when a design is done well, the experience itself is enough. There are a lot of single-player games on my list that I want to just beat already. A backlog of titles that grows every year. None of them challenged me in the ways that Antichamber does. There’s something old-school about the over-arching simplicity filled with individual times of incredible challenge. I have a feeling that even after beating the game, I’ll still want more.
You don’t die. You gain very little in the sense of “power ups”. All that they do anyway is make the puzzles harder, because you have additional complexity that you need to account for. I don’t want to spoil any of the puzzles for a new player, so I won’t go into too much detail on how exactly the mechanics work. I will say that I spent way too long trying to find a pink block so I could watch it roll around a tunnel in the wall. I’ve done this multiple times, and every time I get this little burst of excitement that I’ve found it again. Want to know a secret? I don’t even know what it does! I have no idea if this ridiculous, insignificant thing is even going to have any effect on the game. But I do it. I do it because the game doesn’t punish me or reward me in the modern traditional sense of games. It lets me punish myself by hitting escape and backing out of a room/puzzle. It lets me reward myself by seeing my progress pile up in the main lobby. I feel the reward of just enjoying the discovery of the world I’m playing in, without having 376 collectibles trying to force me to do so.
I won’t, and can’t, call this a review without beating the game. I don’t really know what this is. There isn’t even a title for the article yet. I only knew that I had to try and place into words what it was that I felt while playing this crazy indie game. There’s a delight from being able to enjoy a genre of game that I haven’t felt a passion for in a long time. I’m even more thrilled to have an excuse to get away from multiplayer competitive games for a bit. Taking a step back from the memorization of items. The memorization of an arbitrarily created meta and power system. The absolute need to win all of the time because not winning is not having fun. Antichamber makes me feel like a real gamer again. Just a guy who likes to appreciate the challenge and beauty of a new world. Someone who is playing a game because it’s thoroughly enjoyable, and not because it’s the most popular shooter with the fastest matchmaking lobbies. I missed that, and I have the utmost respect to Alexander Bruce for giving me that back.
Please check out the Steam Store Page if you are interested in learning more or trying the game.
You can check out the Antichamber Website to purchase soundtracks and find other goodies.
Also check out the Press Page to read about some of the development process and view awards.
I think I figured out a title finally. Take it away Boston.