As if being lost in space wasn’t bad enough this guy is also trapped in an asylum-like padded cube that mysteriously holds a series of puzzles. The Director’s Cut of Q.U.B.E adds a plot and with it some much needed intrigue. One thing I absolutely cannot do even once during this review is mention Portal. Damn it. Well with that ruined in the very first paragraph I suppose it wouldn’t do much harm to consider a few comparisons to what is probably gamings most popular puzzle game. It certainly isn’t a bad role model.
Q.U.B.E’s introduction is a very well considered approach and gently introduces the different coloured objects and the ways in which they can be manipulated and interacted with. A simple one off interaction followed by an easy example puzzle to solve will have you very comfortably progressing in the early stages. It’s nice not to spend time wondering what options you have to solve an area and instead spend your time considering how to solve it. That’s not to say Q.U.B.E stays simple throughout but just that it is extremely good at introducing concepts to you at the right pace.
There isn’t any explanation given through speech, written signs or the worst option by far and my personal nemesis, the pop-up box. Everything is learned through exploration of areas and the puzzles that are presented to you. It’s thoughtfully designed the way a tutorial should be that allows you to stay immersed and enjoy some actual gameplay.
Sadly less though was given to the plot which has been added to the Director’s Cut. The structure that comes with the plot is definitely a big plus point. But the first communication with not-GLaDOS strips you completely out of your mysterious surroundings to explain that you have forgotten your memory and don’t know who you are. You are solving the puzzles within the strange object to save Earth. And you will lose contact with your new friend every time a planet orbits which you might imagine will coincide usefully with certain progression points in the game.
It’s totally counter to the smooth and subtle tutorial to have someone explain why you’re nameless and why they won’t be in constant contact. We’ve all played games before we know you won’t be in contact all the time the explanation does nothing but draw attention to a convention we all expect and ignore. The same goes for who the protagonist is. The mystery of the unknown is a far bigger draw to keep playing than someone stating that we don’t know because you lost your memory. It’s a shame that the good work on the tutorial is forgotten after only a couple of lines of dialogue. Games like this rely on the unknown to create atmosphere but you can’t just state blatantly that something is weird – it just doesn’t work.
Despite that there is a certain atmosphere to Q.U.B.E. There’s an oddness to the place and the puzzles being presented to you is definitely not exactly normal. It’s a good job your suit kept you alive as clearly stated in the opening speech. It’s also immensely useful that it was equipped with colourful block manipulators because that’s exactly what you’ll need to solve the Q.U.B.E and save the Earth. Handy.
The puzzles themselves are creative enough and offer some nice complexity at times. Areas are well crafted and the thoughtfulness that went into the starting sections of the game persists throughout. Often you will spend little time finding what to do and face the task of how to complete your objective. The pace keeps to about the right level and everything moves along nicely with the occasional addition of plot told through a one way conversation.
There is enough creativity that Q.U.B.E doesn’t become boring but having said that it also only lasts for a couple of hours and doesn’t really get the chance to become dull. There are enough solid mechanics in Q.U.B.E that the game could have gone on longer. It might also have given the plot more chance to develop but sadly a couple of hours is all you get.
There isn’t really much going on with the audio to speak of, everything is pretty much just as good as it needs to be. The sound effect when landing after a jump for example sounds a bit dubious when you jump repeatedly to climb blocks. The visuals are actually very nice and the bright primary coloured puzzle pieces are used well to create vibrant areas with a bright white background. There isn’t much in the way of variety, aside from the use of colours, but the pieces you see are well textured and realistic.
The Director’s Cut adds a vague plot and some nifty secrets but not much besides from the original Q.U.B.E. There’s a solid puzzle game to enjoy but it’s never fully realised and there isn’t enough time for a real atmosphere and plot to build up. A good atmosphere takes a least 20/30 minutes to build and that soon eats into your 2/3 hour playthrough. Still a solid first person puzzler that’s well worth playing.