Q.U.B.E. Review (PC)

You're all thinking it. No, don't try to deny it, it's obvious. It's written all over your face there, plain for the entire world to see. You think this is just Portal, don't you? Well, you're wrong. Oh, wait, no. What's the opposite of wrong? Yeah, sorry, you're right. This is basically Portal, just without the really good stuff that made it click with so many people.

That's unfair, as Q.U.B.E is actually a good puzzle game with some interesting ideas involving colour, light and all sorts of physics gubbins, but it's never going to shake the 'Portal without personality' tag that your reviewer has slapped onto it. It's just too monotonous in appearance terms to make any real impact, and that's actually a shame, it really is.

The visuals are clean, but are generally too monotonous to be charming

If Portal had never been released, people would be making loving noises about QUBE (no, can't be doing with those full stops) and praising its originality, the different perspective on puzzles it brings and so on. But, perhaps because of budgetary reasons, it's not able to grow beyond just being a puzzle game. If there's a story, your reviewer didn't see it, other than the “unknown person in unknown place solves puzzles, wears nifty gloves” thing. But replace “gloves” with “portal gun” and what've you got? Exactly.

Anyway, QUBE sees you in that situation with your gloves on and your task is simply to solve puzzle A so you can move on to puzzles B, C and onwards. In terms of pacing and variety, it actually does a good job of mixing things up. Balls need to be rolled, light beams need to be diverted, walls need to be rotated and so on, proving it's got the puzzle design 'cojones' to stand up and sometimes beat down its more illustrious cousin.

So it's not in the design of the puzzles that QUBE falls down, because if it were solely judged on that, it'd do rather better than you can see it has by the score you've doubtlessly already glanced at. It's because presentation, atmosphere and such like, they do actually matter, specifically in a game that's so close to one that is so renowned for all these things.

Thus, when you trudge through one monochrome corridor after the other, you find yourself hankering for just something other than the next puzzle to tantalise you. When something finally starts happening to the scenery, moving you (again, like Portal) into non-standard areas, you wonder whether things might get a bit more exciting, but it doesn't. All that happens is the puzzles get harder and the problems with the glove handling and perspective become more obvious and, therefore, annoying.

Sometimes the game hints at things beyond just the puzzles

There's a slight delay or lack of responsiveness to the controls that makes the puzzles needing precise timing and/or object selection exceedingly frustrating at times. The ‘dark’ puzzles are interesting, but eventually get a little tedious with the constant “hang on, where’s that block again?” manoeuvring.

Some of the issues are personal ones, like getting confused by the directional arrows when rotating walls, but there’ll probably be little niggles that affect everyone in different ways, usually resulting in frustrating puzzles being tough to solve not because you don’t know how to do it, but because the game is doing its best to stop you with its mechanics.

What you’ve got then, at the end of the day, is a solid puzzler that could do with a bit of a polish in a few areas and, most importantly, the injection of a bit of personality, something to make it not just about the puzzles. And, also, to make you stop thinking about Portal the whole time.

Chances are this viewpoint will be criticised. After all, this isn’t a huge studio producing this, and so yes, it must be taken into account that there’s not going to be the resources to hire Mike Patton just to do some crazy snarling. However, there are plenty of indie titles that manage to have so much more charm than this, so there’s no excuse really.

The light puzzles are the best ones in the game

Nobody’s asking for Wheatley or anything like that, just more of an effort to have an atmosphere that inspires you to play, to want to know more about the universe you inhabit, and there’s been a lot of effort put into the puzzles, so it’s not out of the question to suggest more could have been made of the actual environments they’re contained within. Sigh.

So, anyway, what you’ll get if you invest in QUBE is a solid puzzler but little else. What it sets out to do, gameplay-wise, it succeeds in, providing admirable and occasionally fiddly conundrums to cudgel your grey matter with. However, outside of that, there’s little to charm you, little to make you ‘love’ the game, rather than just like it. While the ending is quite nicely done, it’s the getting there that makes it seem more interesting than it actually is. And that’s a shame, because if that wasn’t the case, well, this might have been a surprising little hit. As it is, it’ll probably be consigned to the recycle bin of history, never to be played again.