Six years on and the pilot light of Samus Aran’s Gunship is yet to flicker back into existence — and so too the fiery eyes of the bounty hunter who set Nintendo’s world on fire. Her absence has left the scavengers, the adventurers and completionists in limbo, passing the time by reliving memories of games held so close to the heart that, in partnership with Castlevania, spawned a sub-genre of its own.
That genre, “Metroidvania” has been left without a ruler — sending out a distress signal for the bounty hunter to save it from the flailing hands of failed successors. And how they’ve tried. The entirety of the HD generation and all of its rendering power has been thrown at the task, setting videogame cartographers to work scribbling sprawling maps in Samus’ image, full of secrets and dead ends, but in their thirst for detail have delivered on only half the promise: they have built maps, but never worlds.
The empty pedestal has taunted developers: “Go on, show us your tricks!”. Lucky, then, that Antichamber’s box of tricks aren’t stifled by the laws of finite shapes and their gravitational boundaries.
Antichamber has tricks to last a lifetime.
The Metroid connection is abstract, like much of Antichamber as both a game and a space. It isn’t found in the name — more fitting of a hopped up energy drink, the kind you could imagine with a warning label of “Drink too much Antichamber and you might just suffer brain freeze”, but rather in its combination of play and place. Antichamber’s heart is puzzling, contained in a world built of largely naked geometry — in stark contrast to others — managing to craft a claustrophobic place of intrigue, one where a wrong turn could see you lost for days.
Antichamber later moves on to more familiar puzzles — a sometimes frustrating time where blocks are tamed, like a snake charmer, into fitting odd shapes to open pathways and ascend great chasms — but it’s in those opening hours where it’s most liberal with its magic trick of a world, not so much twisting and contorting as breaking and rebuilding it: walk down a straight corridor and you’ll find yourself walking in circles. Turn a corner or turn back and watch as a room disintegrates into a narrow hall.
It’s a trick performed at once with such ease as if without a care, and at the same time is meticulously careful: illusions aren’t sold this convincingly without preparation. It’s a sight that would send any other designer mad, and with good reason, having spent years upon weeks upon days hand placing every detail — but Alexander Bruce shows a flair for the inventive, shunning long-standing videogame laws. It’s an unmissable statement — “Welcome to Antichamber”.
Its hub room is your first welcome, where you start and where you return to recollect thoughts — an inhabitable menu, of sorts, where an exit taunts you on the other side of impassable glass, and the walls are plastered with the barebones of information on how to move and interact. An ever growing 2D map sits on the other, doing its best to chart your progress through a world that connects back in on itself at every turn.
There’s another wall, too, filling with the signs that hang on the unreliable walls of Antichamber — like a wall of memories, tracking progress through this illogical world in as logical an order as it can find — full of images turned parables that usually offer some form of a hint after an obstacle has been overcome as if taunting a player — “If only you could twist this world like I can”. “Imagine how easy this could all be”.
Antichamber shares a love — with Super Metroid — of opening a pathway only to drop you down through unseen holes to lower levels, as if diving you deeper and deeper and challenging you to not only keep track of what’s come before but figuring out what comes after. Dead ends hit like brick walls — progress is only ever temporary — which might frustrate some when time spent scraping for progress leads to one of many secret rooms that reward with their own kind of treasure, but offer no sign of forward progress.
Seemingly dead ends send you into a hurry, like a mouse scurrying along test corridors in vain hope that there’ll be another block of cheese at the end of another corridor, and in Antichamber’s case, you might just find it: Antichamber is a game of finally finding secrets, only to be left wondering what those secret’s further secrets are.
Give it time, and space, and the solution will seem clear — coming back not with new weapons but a clearer mind, better able to understand Antichamber’s corridors that build and rebuild themselves before your eyes, as if hand-made in real time for you and you alone. Really, though, it’s a map turned abstract world built for the purpose of confusing, teaching, and then wowing, and in that way Antichamber succeeds.
Even its block puzzles can dazzle in their own way, it’s just that they were always doomed to the after show as a follow up to Antichamber’s initial, and now long lasting impression: of a crafted map, contorted within the brink of snapping, succeeding where others have failed — creating a logically illogical world that’s more than just rooms and corridors — that loses you as quickly as you lose track of it. Magical.
- Scratches the mind as well as the completionist itch of videogaming adventurers
- A world as ready to contort itself in order to amaze, as it is to confuse
- Moments of discovering solutions, and unintended solutions, that leave a creepy grin on your face
- Secret rooms and dead ends offer fascinating rewards
- Can get lost in its own finicky block puzzles at times.
- Secret rooms and dead ends will frustrate some.
Antichamber is currently on sale on Steam for $14.99.