I say old chap, is that Portal over there? No? It’d be too easy to get pulled in by Q.U.B.E’s sparse visuals and first person view and scream impostor, but there’s more here than initially meets the eye.
It’s a lovely system, and one that is easy to pick up. The opening section’s simple pull-out-blocks-to-make-stairs puzzles are quickly ramped up, to include the aforementioned pink floor switches, green block to green light puzzles and ball based examinations. They all work really well, the acid-test of this being that we never really felt frustrated during the five hours it took us to play through the game. There is a small issue here with a slight lack of a difficulty curve, as the puzzles feel longer rather than harder some of the time, but that’s a minor gripe that could be easily rectified.
The ball based puzzles were a particular highlight for us here at PTC, especially in the later segments of the game. These effectively turn into a game of pinball, where you chase the rolling ball through the cube, commanding blocks and switches to raise and turn, ensuring your orb makes it into the desired location at the bottom of the trough. It’s not the most original concept in the world, but it really is satisfying, and that’s what puzzle games are about first and foremost.
"It’s not the most original concept in the world, but it really is satisfying, and that’s what puzzle games are about first and foremost."
Unfortunately though, the game does have quite a few B-sides doing their best to sour the experience. This edition of the game comes complete with a story (this wasn’t present in the first student made version), and it’s a bad sci-fi one, complete with amateur dramatic society voice acting, and the kind of rancid scriptwriting that’s blighted the games industry for so long.
The beginning sees you “waking up” from a fifteen day coma. You’ve been sent to space to solve the mysteries of the floating cube, before it - and hold your breath here, folks - crash lands into earth, destroying everything and everyone ever! This stunning narrative contains two main characters communicating with your voiceless avatar; Commander Novak (your conduit with the space station), and an unknown (until the ending at least) man screaming about how Novak is a liar. It all plays out very predictably, but we won’t spoil it, just in case some of you have never watched a B-movie before.
It’s a shame as the vegetables of the story play on the loneliness of space travel, and what it can do to the mind - stronger writing and a better ending could have made this game a real contender, especially as mental health hasn’t really been used to drive a story in video games to this date.
The visual style of the game works well and fits the alone in space vibe, with stark white floor and ceiling panels juxtaposed nicely with the colours of the blocks. This scheme gets flipped on it’s head in later levels, as the white turns into dark shadowy corridors and rooms. The comparison to Portal is a given here too, but I really felt the influence of the Metroid Prime series too. Some of the corridors also reminded me of the Zelda series, with the way they curved, reminiscent of the wonderful Forest Temple from Ocarina of Time. The simple, reserved synth-heavy soundtrack aids in creating and continuing the feeling of being very alone, and Toxic Games should be commended for that.
To close, what you’re getting here is an interesting first game from a company pooling some major influences. Here’s hoping Toxic Games find a decent story, and simmer their gameplay ideas long enough to reduce the obvious similarities to Portal et al. There’s not a huge amount of replayability here, aside from a time-trial mode for each section, but if you see it on offer definitely give it a crack.