It’s pretty difficult to look at a screenshot from Q.U.B.E and not imagine Gabe Newell frantically gasbagging with his solicitor. A first person puzzler set in a testing area with a sterile, sheet white aesthetic?
But wait! Appearances can be deceptive, and despite bearing a cursory resemblance to Portal, a few hours with Q.U.B.E and you realise it’s no mere imitator.
For a start, Q.U.B.E is a much quieter game. There’s no sultry homicidal AI accompaniment here, no British comedian being clumsily droll. All you’ve got for company is a cold, ambient soundtrack and a pair of nifty gloves.
These gloves form the crux of your progress through the game, as they’re used to manipulate different coloured blocks in a series of increasingly complicated rooms.
For instance, red blocks can be raised out the floor to make columns, whilst yellow blocks can be turned into stair-like structures. Blue blocks meanwhile spring out whenever something is pressed upon them, whether it’s another block, a sphere or even you, resulting in much fun as you catapult yourself around the environment.
Things become increasingly tricky when room spinning purple blocks are introduced, as well as green blocks that can only be moved by using the other (you guessed it) blocks.
The game is a lot more varied visually than the initial few levels would have you believe.
If all that wasn’t enough, coloured spheres, magnets and beams of light are thrown into the mix too. It’s like a minimalist cerebral assault course, increasing in difficulty as it goes on.
It might sound awfully finicky, but it isn’t. Q.U.B.E tests your patience and puzzling prowess in the best way. You’ll get infuriated, and some of the puzzle rooms become increasingly intimidating, but the feeling of accomplishment once you triumph is immensely satisfying.
Toxic games have also managed to eke out a good looking game with Epic’s Unreal Engine. It’s very Portal, but it also recalls the saturated, vibrant look of Mirror’s Edge.
It gets particularly impressive once you begin to explore the pitch black bowels of the facility (illuminated only by the glow of the coloured cubes).
It’s wonderfully atmospheric too. You’re all alone in Q.U.B.E. and no plot is given away. In an age where exposition is thrown at us minute after minute, Q.U.B.E’s reticence to explain what’s going on is all the more disquieting and effective. Wandering around the shifting, overbearing facility is very unnerving.
It’s not all perfect. Some of the ball physics seem a bit off. You might have the solution to something, but because the ball isn’t doing what it’s supposed you have to restart.
You can complete the game in about five hours too, with little incentive to return. Perhaps the developers will encourage further jaunts into the world of Q.U.B.E with new content down the line, but it feels a bit spartan as it stands right now.
However these niggles are well worth overlooking, as Q.U.B.E is a fine puzzler that deserves to overcome the ‘Portal-clone’ jibes that’ll doubtless be thrown at it. It’s challenging, yet oddly accessible and addictive. You’d be a blockhead to dismiss it.