We’ve known it’s been true for a while now, physics puzzles + drip fed sci-fi story + first person view = winning formula. It’s a genre that’s not overcrowded, and because of that it’s always a treat when a new game lands. Q.U.B.E. however isn’t a new game, it’s been on PC for a few years now from Toxic Games, and now console gamers are about to experience it for the first time via Grip Games. On paper it’s ticking all the boxes to be a great title, but does it manage to pull it off?
The premise and story behind Q.U.B.E. is very simple, as all these things are – you wake up in a mysterious location, your memory gone, and with only the sounds of a distant radio transmission telling you the Earth is in peril and you’re the only one that can save it. A strange craft is heading to our homeworld and if you can’t figure out what the ship is and how to stop it, it’s goodnight Vienna. So begins your exploration of this new environment and the introduction to manipulating your surroundings to make headway through the vessel.
Comparisons to Portal are inevitable. The game is split up into sections a little similar to the test chamber approach from Valve’s groundbreaking game. Finding a path through each area is a matter of moving blocks to facilitate your progress, and there are different types of blocks that act in different ways depending on their colour. Manipulation of them is performed by activating or deactivating using your gloves – looking at red block for example makes your gloves glow red and you can “pull” or “push” the block, within the confines of its movement that is. There are yellow blocks which form steps, blue blocks that act as springboards, green blocks that can be moved around and reset to an original position, and purple blocks that allow you to rotate the walls and floors. Solving a puzzle room allows you to move onto the next one, and whilst in the beginning you’ll enjoy their simplicity, it doesn’t take long for the difficulty to ramp up, though the way to solve things doesn’t get stale because there’s always something new given to you to use or think about.
What drives you forward in Q.U.B.E. is the snippets of story that get dropped in. Why are you there? Your only link back to Earth is a lone astronaut on the International Space Station, acting as a relay because you’re so far away from the planet. The further you make it into the craft, the more you are contacted by another voice, one that remains unknown but tells you that the whole thing is an elaborate lie and you’re really not in space. Who do you believe? Is this actually happening to you? You’re a silent protagonist in a strange and sterile environment, how do you know this isn’t all in your head and you’re not in an asylum somewhere? The look and feel of the whole place is a bit padded cell-esque.
Built with the Unreal engine, things look very nice all the way through, and it all runs very smoothly. There’s nothing too taxing for the engine to deal with, the idea being that all your focus is the coloured blocks that are the key to puzzle solving. Everything else is merely white, with the light and shadow left to create the atmosphere. The audio adds to the feeling of isolation and foreboding that you experience, with a good score overlaying the action. With the only two voices you hear being a huge part of the unfolding tale, and the fact you never hear them for any length of time, they have to be able to convey the right gravitas and emotion, and thankfully this is done really well by Rachel Robinson and Rupert Evans. It doesn’t hurt that Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut is penned by the same guy that wrote Crysis 2 and 3, Alien Isolation and The Division, Rob Yescombe.
Q.U.B.E. is very linear, you’re funnelled down a very specific route to make the narrative work, but you’re given free reign to solve the puzzles in whatever way you see fit. Sure, there are obvious solutions to a number of them, though it gets less clear as the size and complexity increases, and rarely do you feel pushed into a particular way of dealing with it. In fact, the game gives you no instruction at all, it just assumes that you know how to make things happen through visual clues on screen. It’s refreshing to see this, and until I started typing I’d not really thought about the lack of direction. It definitely brings you closer to the character you’re inhabiting, and the situation you’ve found yourself in.
Story mode doesn’t last forever, it’s about the right length of time and ends with you wanting more, which is never a bad thing. Once that’s done there are time trials to tackle which are custom created to tax your agility and rapid thinking, especially if you want to top the leaderboards. Put simply, it’s a great little package of a game, and one I enjoyed thoroughly from start to finish. I can’t help but be reminded of my time with Chell and GLaDOS, but that’s not a criticism of Q.U.B.E., more a recognition of the inspiration garnered from Portal. I heartily recommend picking this game up if you enjoy anything with physics puzzles, it’ll have you hooked from start to finish.
A review copy of Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut for PS4 was provided by the Grip Games PR team, and the game is available for download now on PS3 and PS4, and on Xbox One from 24th July.
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