Going Back: Antichamber

Regardless of your position on the worth, correctness, or validity of Art Games, Antichamber is a game I would defend as “An Art Game” to the death. It is, in its sense, art. It is most definitely a game, with challenges, obstacles, and mechanics. And it is a utopian game.

Wait, what the hell is a utopian game when it’s at home? Read on, and I’ll try to explain.

There's a lady who knows... All these puzzles are gold... And she's sung in the title of the puzzle.

There’s a lady who knows… All these puzzles are gold… And she’s sung in the title of the puzzle.

Antichamber is a game without a fail state beyond you giving up. Now before you think that’s boring, let me point out that that doesn’t mean you’re not going to fail to solve a puzzle. But you’re not only always going to be able to have another go, you’ll be able to travel between most puzzles without a care in the world. Nothing is going to kill you. Nothing is telling you you’re shit at the game. In fact, quite the opposite: The game’s signposts are basically life advice, generally quite chill life advice at that. And it’s often pertinent. For example, there’s a bridge of sorts, and the signpost for both crossing it successfully, and falling off it reference a tightrope. The game shows you what happens if you take that bridge too quickly beforehand, and what doesn’t happen if you take it slowly (It won’t disappear from under you unless you deliberately step off it or speed up at the wrong time), so… It’s basically an analogy for tightrope walking, which is generally best done at a relatively sedentary pace. Another has a sheep leaping off a cliff, after you followed an instruction to, er… Jump off a cliff. Something something cliff something something everyone else something? I’m sure, if you’ve even encountered fictional parents, you can fill in the something somethings there. It’s a thing parents like to say.

Antichamber owes a lot to… Well, a lot of things. Life is what the game is an analogy for, but it owes bits and bobs to Portal (As it uses a sort of non-violent, puzzle solving “weapon” with multiple functions unlocked as the game goes by), to M C Escher (As it plays with perspective, direction, and space being a bit bendier than usual), and to logic puzzles (As everything has internally consistent rules, and so you can deduce, reasonably, how doing thing A will affect problem B with at least good accuracy most of the time.) You are… Well, you, really. And you’re in a maze. A maze that is life. You start with no tools, no knowledge, and a fleeting sense that you don’t have enough time (Because, at first, it appears you are on a timer, and it’s not a long one for a sprawling puzzle game.) As the game goes on, you accrue knowledge (Certain walls go away when you do one thing, this part of the maze acts like this), tools (One of four cube guns, each one adding an ability to your arsenal, from the ability to take individual cubes and put them somewhere else, to the ability to make nigh infinite cubes, to the ability to make walls of cubes, moving them around), and, along the way, you discover… That actually, you can take the game at your own pace. Just like life, Antichamber is not a race to the end. Stop. Enjoy the flowers. Or, in this case, a picture of a man with his trousers off, and the associated life lesson.

You may be mistaken for thinking this is an easy puzzle. It still has challenge. Because everything except those crates is lava. To that brick.

You may be mistaken for thinking this is an easy puzzle. It still has challenge. Because everything except those crates is lava. To that brick.

The thing being, of course, that you are, in this game, trying to get to the end. The game tells you what a bad idea it is to try and race there. It shows you little easter eggs, misdirects you, tries to slow you down with increasingly more skill intensive puzzles… But you’re curious. There is something that eats light. Something to which doors are no obstacle. Something which seemingly eludes you at every turn. And… When you catch it… It’s all over. That’s right… The game ends, and oblivion results. That something, that nebulous, slightly ominous thing you’ve been chasing for no reason you can determine beyond the goal… Is death.

It’s rather clever. But it doesn’t stop there. Everywhere you look, there aren’t only puzzles involving perspective, there’s the overriding message that hey, maybe… Just maybe… If you look at things from a different viewpoint than the one you’re used to, think sideways? Things will go better for you. You’ll expand your mind. You won’t only get better at the game, you’ll get better at being you. It’s a positive message. In fact, the only negative messages in the game are that you shouldn’t really hurry (The antithesis of many games), and that you won’t get through things consistently by just bulling your way through (And you won’t.) Like I said, utopian. No danger unless you actively seek it out. No challenge that you have to accept (There’s often another way until near the end, when your choices narrow due to… Well, having solved everything else!), and you can always, always go somewhere else… Maybe play with an old puzzle just for the heck of it. You just have to remember how to get there.

It's kind of clever, really. Normally, this room is actually quite well lit.

It’s kind of clever, really. Normally, this room is actually quite well lit.

Finally, it’s tightly designed. There is no HUD. The options, as well as the map and your collection of signposts are all in a single, easy to return to location, and whenever a new mechanic is to be introduced, you can guarantee something’s going to either be nearby to show you how it works, or you’re going to come across something that teaches you sooner or later. Good example, Eye Walls. Eye Walls are terrible at staring contests, fall asleep, and vanish when you stare at them for a time (The time being dependent on the door.) There’s a crossroads at one point early in the game, a door that won’t open if you look at it, and directly opposite that door? An Eye Wall. Walking slowly backwards, you’re guaranteed to see it close. Or, another, sharper example happens when you enter a room with a tantalising hole in the ceiling. Inside the hole? “Don’t Look Down.”

Well… Whyever no- AAAA EYE AAAAAAA FALLING AAA WHERE DID THE FLOOR GO?

And then you land harmlessly somewhere new. Because the game’s cool like that. And you’ve learned a new thing.

So, Antichamber is tightly designed around a theme. Good. It imitates life (Via analogy). Good. It is, indisputably, a game. Cool.

So it’s an art game. And it’s well worth checking out.

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Subnautica (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £14.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Subnautica is a game that takes a while to get going, and then GIANT SQUID happen. It’s also a game that takes a little while to learn. While Starbound does strange new worlds, and games like State of Decay do the zombie survival thing, Subnautica does Blue Planet. Ocean everywhere. And it does a good job of dissuading you of the idea this would be boring… But some things do require a little bit to learn. Thankfully, with the exception of Creative Mode, you get to enjoy the story in the manner you want, with a choice of Permadeath and Everything on, and varieties of Not-Permadeath with or without the need for food and water.

Being underwater may seem confusing in screenshots, but feels natural in game... Also beautiful.

Being underwater may seem confusing in screenshots, but feels natural in game… Also beautiful.

Funnily enough, the base Survival mode (No permadeath, but you need to obtain food and water) is the right mode for me, it seems. Because fish are assholes, and once the world opened up to me? Wow, did I suddenly feel very small… In the best way. So let’s talk progression, to give you some idea of why I like this game.

It begins with an escape pod. Yours. Your ship, a coloniser, got shot down over an ocean planet, by strange energy beams. You’re the only survivor, and you can hold your breath for 45 seconds. You’re slightly hungry, slightly thirsty, and rather irritable. So you explore this salty “paradise”, and grudgingly admit that yes, it does look beautiful. Kelp forests, caves, underwater gardens of red weed, and… Thank fuck, the fish are actually edible. One of them, the Airsack, even filters water for you if you run it through your Fabricator. Okay, that’s one worry gone. Now for building a home, because it looks like you’re going to be here a while. Titanium and Copper, it seems, can be found in limestone nodules that are thankfully easy to break apart, and the wreckage of the Aurora, your ex-ship (Which is making some worrying noises, and will explode soon, kicking off the story.) But you can’t find any silver, which you’re told is useful for all sorts of electronics, vehicles, and Lead, for a radiation proof suit (Important, because large areas are irradiated now.)

Once you get past the hump, you too can make a home away from home!

Once you get past the hump, you too can make a home away from home!

It takes you a while to realise that there are two kinds of nodule in the Kelp forests, and you have to brave Stalkers (Asshole Fish #1) to get that Sandstone, which gives you silver and gold. Luckily, building a base mostly takes Titanium and Glass, and you don’t have to build very much to make it a home away from home: Couple of solar panels (Titanium and Quartz), rooms and foundations (Titanium), maybe an observatory (Stalker Teeth and Quartz to make Enamelled Glass), and some lockers and a fabricator (Mostly titanium, some glass). Along the way, you will probably have discovered Asshole Fishes #2 and #3 (A large, carnivorous burrower and EXPLODER FISH.) But food and water are still largely not a problem. You can even completely leave the escape pod behind if you want.

But until you realise where the silver is, you aren’t getting to the really interesting stuff. And that can be a pain, some games. But once you do? Oh boy. Both the kit and the world get bigger. The Aurora is explorable. You build personal mini-subs, and probably get them blown up exploring cave networks. Jellyfish that hang out in cave networks. Massive blue and green glowing creatures that seem harmless… And Gigantic, toothy beasts. Oh god, the Gigantic… Toothy… “Squid”. Subnautica is one of the few games that can claim to have caused an underwear replacement, and my first encounter with this beastie is exactly why…

…Picture the scene. I’m trundling home in a somewhat damaged minisub (The Seamoth), and I keep hearing… Noises. Big noises. It’s dark, even for the depths I’m at, and something is on the edge of my limited vision. There are bumps. Big ones. My console starts sparking. I turn around…

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

OHGODITLATCHEDONTOMYCOCKPITBAILBAILBAIL!

…Faced with so many teeth, I take the option of leaving my Seamoth just in time. Seemingly satisfied, the creature (Many times bigger than I am) slinks back into the darkness, leaving me to try and make my way home the slow way.

So yeah… Although the ocean in Subnautica is beautiful, and it seems, at first, like a slow game with little combat… The ocean is also deadly… It just takes a little while to make you realise that. It’s a survival game which could do with a little more help for the player, but lets you mostly play at your own pace, and I’m definitely looking forward to when it becomes a release candidate. As it is, it’s worth checking out if you like the genre or the ocean… Just be aware… The Squid Is Out There, and It Is Always Angry.

Not everything that's big is lethal. Maybe. The jury's out.

Not everything that’s big is lethal. Maybe. The jury’s out.

The Mad Welshman loves the ocean. He loves some of the… Things that dwell in it a little less.

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