The Indie Fund’s first foray, Q.U.B.E., has been available for purchase for a couple of weeks now from several online outlets. Dominic gave us a quick preview at the time of release but recently – and to coincide with its 6th Jan appearance on Steam – I’ve given myself enough time to play it through for review.
First things first: this is not an amateur production. It is true that the team behind it only formed in 2010 to follow up their student project, but if you weren’t already aware of this fact prior to playing the game then you’d likely remain none the wiser. The Indie Fund has clearly had a hand in helping Toxic Games to visualise and polish up their product. In terms of aesthetics, this title is nothing short of incredible.
Descending into a corridor flush with white blocks is the first glimpse you’ll have of Q.U.B.E. There are few discernible features here; the architecture is colourless all the way to the end. It’s a theme which continues for most of the game – a sterile environment, regimented in its construction but not at all dull to look at. Light falls pleasingly upon each brick and, from where you lay, the place appears padded, almost cosy.
Why are you lying down? This isn’t explained. Much. You’ve just awoken, but throughout the experience there are never any visual indicators of your character’s current status. All you need to know – once you make it to your feet – is that you are HUD free and ready for experimentation.
The first puzzle allows you to discover the basics of interaction within the world – the manipulation of coloured bricks. You’ll elevate yourself to the exit on a red column pulled from the floor by way of your magical gloves. The second puzzle develops this idea. Subsequently, you’ll learn a variety of useful methods for block manipulation and will come to understand how various coloured cubes come into play. Single red bricks can be extended to three times their width, yellows are able to form a few rudimentary steps, blue ones act as launch pads… More and more get thrown into the mix as you proceed.
Each puzzle constitutes an introduction to some new object or method of working. And, at this point, it’s almost impossible not to draw comparisons with Portal. So let’s get this over with…
It’s easy to enter into Q.U.B.E with preconceptions based on screenshots – along with the immaculate art design, the first-person puzzling owes a great debt to Valve’s game-changing series. But this isn’t a copycat affair, I can assure you. All it constitutes in this regard is a whispered thank-you-very-much for the existence of those games, for opening the door to further projects of this type. There are plenty of nods here to Portal, certainly, but none of them overshadow the originality on display here. Anyone who says otherwise isn’t being entirely fair to the developers.
The puzzles for the most part are thoroughly satisfying. Early on in my playthrough I fell into an almost meditative pattern of encountering obstacles, experimenting with the tools available, scratching my head in bafflement and then devising a perfect solution. It was wonderful. As with all great puzzle games, what initially seems simplistic becomes astoundingly complex when you’re yanked from the comfort zone by something strange, something new, or just by a bunch of old shit thrown together. How do bouncing balls, power cables and lasers sound? ‘Silly good fun’ is the only answer I’m comfortable with.
The game only falters with one minor misstep: the implementation of magnets. They sound fairly harmless, sure, but nothing else besides their presence tempered my enjoyment of the game. They exist as buttons on walls, pulling special blocks towards them when active. They don’t feature heavily but, whenever they did, I found their use clunky and uninspiring, often needing to be turned on or off when the block I was intent on positioning moved maddeningly out of view. The purity of puzzling in these instances was lost. Instead of calculating victory I turned to madly mashing buttons, praying to the gods of all things polarised to show me the way. By the end of the game, I don’t think there was a single puzzle involving them that I hadn’t felt I’d fluked.
But I don’t want to detract from the otherwise solid experience that Q.U.B.E. provides. It is both cunning and attractive in equal, gigantic measure. It’s also captivatingly mysterious and I’ll wager most people will feel the need to run through the whole thing in one sitting (for which you’ll require around three straight hours). Separately – and perhaps most importantly – it gives a great impression of what the Indie Fund are looking to achieve in the promotion and development of original ideas. It is indisputable that Toxic Games have given the entire project one hell of a kickstart with this, their first title.