I am not entirely sure that I really know what Antichamber is. I know it is a puzzle game, and I know it’s played from the first-person perspective. I also know that it’s one of the most frustrating games I have ever played. While most puzzle games make me feel dumb for getting stuck and then smart for finally figuring it out, Antichamber makes me feel dumb for getting stuck and then lucky for stumbling upon a solution.
The aesthetic is very spartan — rooms are defined entirely in wireframe — and the contrast when color is used is a very effective way to show the beginning of a new puzzle or an area where you are intended to learn a new skill. Unfortunately, I never felt equipped to learn the skills in question. There are next to no hints offered so when you’re stuck your only option is to bang your head against the wall until inspiration strikes, and that’s just not fun. With no in-game hint system and very few visual cues pointing the player in the proper direction, those head-banging sessions can last quite a while.
What is especially frustrating is that rules, those of physics and those of typical games, do not apply. Taking convention and turning it on its head can make for very interesting scenarios (last year’s Spec Ops: The Line shone a light on the typical action hero and was a great experience for it), but disregarding two core tenets of games makes for an inconsistent experience.
I feel like I was supposed to feel clever as the puzzles unfolded, but what I really felt was the developer yelling to me “I am clever because nothing here makes any sense!” Turning right four times should deliver me back to my starting position. After turning 180 degrees, I should recognize my surroundings. Going upstairs should not lead me to the same place as going downstairs. Revisiting old puzzle rooms should not be a core gameplay mechanic without explanation. The game world should make sense unless the player character is crazy. While the player character could be crazy there is no verification of this so all that’s left is a game that doesn’t make sense for seemingly no reason.
I came in wanting to like Antichamber, but it’s just too obtuse for its own good. It also turns out that when you take away the story, there is no place for the light to be shone but on puzzle design. If you’re going in with next to no narrative, then the puzzles need to shine, and they just don’t here. Nothing here is technically broken, but the experience is neither enjoyable nor cohesive, and those two things are paramount.
Pros: No penalty for failure
Cons: No indication how to progress, game world makes no sense whatsoever