Everyone loves a good puzzle.
Really, we do. There's certainly something to be said for the frustrations they present - those moments when you realize something simple was made difficult because you were looking at it the wrong way, for example - but the feeling of finally getting that solution is worth any and all emotions it took to get there.
When looking at Puzzles as a genre, the tendency to to immediately think of one of two franchises: Tetris
for your more traditional puzzler, or Portal
for the modern, FPS style of puzzler. It seems when Toxic Games set out to develope their own entry in the genre, Portal
was very much on their collective brains as they began work on Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut
, a puzzler that was released in 2012 on PC and whose Director's Edition has recently arrived on Xbox One via the ID@Xbox program.
begins, it's hard to not immediately draw comparisons to Portal
. Much like only seeing Chell's hands, the player only sees the protagonist's hands. Much like Aperture Science the environments are largely white space with the occasional splash of color meant to draw the gamer's attention, Q.U.B.E.
employs a similar aesthetic to guide gamers to the correct portion of a room to be able to solve a puzzle. The question at this point becomes whether the game's puzzles are distinct enough that it doesn't feel as if it's simply a Portal
expansion. The good news here is that Q.U.B.E
honors many of the great things about Portal
but manages very much to stand on its own.
Just imagine waking up to this
Upon waking up in the depths of a cube, or the Q.U.B.E., perhaps, a female voice begins speaking to the game's protagonist. After hearing about how he was out of contact with home for a long time and how happy she and others will be to know he's well, the hero of this story has to work his way out by solving a series of puzzles in order to move through the game's environments. While most of the game is primarily presented in black and whites, color is exceptionally important in knowing what tools are available to solve puzzles.
The blocks are in most of the colors of the rainbow, though not usually quite as bright as you see here
, the pliable elements are all color coded by how they react to player interaction. Accessing a red block will cause it to move up and down or right and left in a space of up to three units. Yellow areas will generate three blocks that can either be situated as steps or raised so that the middle platform has the greatest height. Blue blocks can be depressed and then stepped on for a long jump. Green spaces generate a ball that has to be navigated through the present puzzle. Finally, the purple spaces create arrows that allow for a portion of the game field to be rotated. Mastering all of these is the key to successfully navigating the game's relatively short campaign. Thankfully, in puzzles where a wrong answer would leave one stuck, restart buttons are prominently placed and function to reset everything to as it was once the player initially walked in.Q.U.B.E.
's greatest strength is in how it surely and steadily guides the player towards learning each of the blocks' mechanics. Everything is given fair time, but it never feels as though the game is plodding. Not a word is spoken about what to do or how to do it, only that there is a need to get out and the only tools available are the gloves the main character possesses that allows him to move limited areas of the environments. Learning the hooks of the gameplay feels natural and is rewarding once a solution clicks into place.
Underneath the gaming element, the story continues to play out as the initial female voice that welcomed us back into consciousness continues to feed us bits of this mystery man's past in an effort to jump start his memory. After a while though, a second voice, a man this time, begins to make himself heard, presenting the question of who should you trust? Or, even further, out in the far reaches of space, is there anyone really there at all? While it definitely is not necessary to play the game with the sound up, it would only serve to miss what is an unexpected strength - the unfolding of the game's story.
Easy does it
In addition to the core campaign, which spans seven sectors, Q.U.B.E.
also includes a second mode called "Beat the Qlock". This game mode presents a series of puzzles where the goal is to complete them quickly. Throughout, there are power ups that can be acquired, such as super speed or enhanced jumping, that are necessary in order to obtain top times. Where the campaign is about taking in the entirety of the situation in order to find a solution, "Beat the Qlock" challenges the player to maneuver quickly and accurately through its levels. The gameplay is the same, but the approach is different, and it's a welcome addition that helps the game along, especially when the campaign is not a particularly time-consuming adventure. Each level can be finished at a bronze, silver, or gold medal time and unlocking more of these medals unlocks further stages of play.
This blue block will let you reach all new heights
The achievement list in the game mostly rewards just getting through the game's campaign, with seven of the nineteen achievements attached to finishing the various sectors. Another three sound like they're for special or out-of-the-way conditions, such as finishing the game's hardest puzzle
, but they will actually just come during the course of the game. Five more achievements consist of finding hidden rooms and the game's beta puzzle
, which was added to the "Director's Cut" edition of the game. These hidden areas are not all that difficult to find, and the extra puzzles are welcome as they add a little more to the length of the game. On the topic of hidden things, one achievement tasks players with finding a picture of the developers
. The final achievement is the only one attached to the Beat the Qlock mode, but as it is necessary to earn twenty medals to unlock the ability to play it, gamers will actually have to spend some time within the mode to complete the game. After twenty medals, the Hover Headway stage opens, and completing that without touching the ground
will net players what is likely to be their final achievement.
For all of Q.U.B.E
's emulation of Portal
it does manage to stand on its own as a first-person puzzle game worthy of your time. The puzzle mechanics are solid and the way in which the game gradually introduces you to the various elements of its gameplay are expertly done. The theme of isolation is also well-crafted, and the story plays out quite well despite the minimalist presentation. Much like the other quality games of this genre, Q.U.B.E.
manages to not out-stay its welcome, and is smart with its inclusion of hidden puzzles and an additional mode of play to increase gameplay time. Fans of Portal
will find a lot to like here (just don't expect the irreverent humor), and those looking for another game to scratch that particular itch will be very pleased. Further, the game's story presents some thought-provoking questions about the nature of isolation that add to an already solid package.
- Excellent level design
- Makes-you-think style story telling
- Doesn't overstay its welcome
- Beat the Qlock mode is as good a time as the core game
- The puzzles generally aren't very hard
- Yes, it doesn't overstay its welcome, but a couple more sectors wouldn't have hurt
The reviewer spent approximately six hours moving and shifting blocks while earning 15 of the game's 20 achievements. A review copy of the game was provided courtesy of the developer.