Q.U.B.E., or Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion, is a sterile, yet colourful, and overall absolutely fantastic first-person puzzler from British rookies Toxic Games. The aesthetic style, however, is far too reminiscent of Portal for it to really carve a name for itself. Far, far, too similar. QUBE takes the mysterious, white, square-wall-panelling style (you know what I mean) and runs with it; carving out some masterful visual sequences towards the end of the game, but the Portal comparisons are too obvious and too strong right from the beginning of the game, and only get more unbearable as you push through the levels.
Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion was created by a 3-man team that seem to have far more experience than three university graduates. There’s red, blue, yellow, green, and pink blocks on the white tiles which each perform different functions, and it’s up to you, a laboratory worker with pair of hi-tech gloves, to activate the blocks in the right order and proceed to the next chamber. The puzzles, for the better part, are nail-tearingly difficult, and yet the learning curve is so perfectly crafted that there’s very few truly frustrating moments. “Quick understanding” – while the puzzles are hard, the mechanisms behind them are brilliantly simple and easy to understand. When it gets frustrating, however, it’s really time to punch the monitor and storm off, because it manages to become phenomenally frustrating within about three steps. Those fucking magnet puzzles.
The problem I have with the magnet puzzles is not that they were excruciatingly hard, per se. It’s simply because the control mechanism is too clunky and unresponsive to handle intricate motion puzzles that can be either solved or require a restart due to a hair’s-width in distance. This is where the frustration comes in – imagine you’ve just spent 30 minutes working out and setting up this complex and detailed pattern of moves, only to have one tiniest unresponsive mouse click force you to do it all again.
I don’t want to talk about the magnet puzzles any more. Another common criticism of QUBE is its total lack of any coherent narrative – while I agree that a game doesn’t necessarily need a plot to be fantastic, it was QUBE’s attempt at a sort-of-storyline-that-didn’t-really-get-going-but-was-far-too-similar-to-Portal-2 that weighed it down. There is plenty of meat in the puzzles for them to stand alone, and although I see what the devs were trying to accomplish with adding a story, I can’t help but feel that it would have been better off with a more fleshed out story or none at all, rather than a tacked on Portal plot.
I feel like I’m focussing far too much on the negatives of the game – negatives that, for the better part, I only realised after I’d completed (and thoroughly enjoyed) it. The truth is, QUBE is a hugely entertaining, cleverly crafted game. The level design is absolutely, fantastically, amazingly, sublime; each “sector” introduces a new gameplay idea that you quickly learn to manipulate in the puzzles, with such a masterfully smooth difficulty curve that even the very best game designers would have trouble matching. Apart from, as I said, the magnets (shudder), these ideas never once felt recycled or lazy; on the contrary, they were all totally unique. I found myself smiling more than once – upon solving a particularly difficult ball-rolling puzzle and watch the right colour rolling towards the right target, I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. QUBE really captures the pure enjoyment value of raw puzzle solving.
If there’s one thing that could be done to improve QUBE, that doesn’t require a total overhaul of the game, it would be community support. Games like this need level editors and speedrun leaderboards; somewhere for the community to interact and talk about the game. We’ve recently seen the potential of community-created levels in a FPP with the release of Portal 2’s Perpetual Testing Initiative DLC – I can almost smell the potential in implementing this feature in QUBE as well.
QUBE is fantastic. Don’t get me wrong, this review was largely nitpicking on my behalf. I enjoyed (most) every minute of it. It’s not expensive, and if you’re looking for a good, 4-5 hour cerebral puzzler than I can’t recommend it more. Other review sites have been terribly harsh – providing you can dissociate this game from Portal (while it’s very, very, very similar, it’s not the same game), you’ll have a blast of a time – as long as you don’t value your fingernails. They will be torn out.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Q.U.B.E. by Toxic Games.
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