Now here’s a game that’s been stuck in the infamous “gaming backlog” any PC gamer on Steam knows well. As a fan of the Portal series, I had my eye on this game since it was launched, but as a PC game, I also understood I probably didn’t want to pick anything I wouldn’t add to a physical shelf outside of a winter sale. So when this game was included in a bundle of games that looked interesting in an early one, I picked it up and promptly shelved it where it would remain in my collection for literally years.
Last week, the dice chose it as one of the possible next games to play, and after seeing new trailers from the much more recent Director’s cut on the WiiU, I wasn’t saying no. After finishing the game, I'm glad I finally did, but I think this is one of those games where your mileage will vary.
Story: As you regain consciousness, you find yourself in a strange room made of square white panels with a woman’s voice talking about how your vitals suddenly picked up as if she wasn’t sure you were even alive. It takes her little time to remind you of your mission. Apparently this place you find yourself is not on Earth, but an artifact hurtling towards it. You are here on a mission to reach the center and destroy it before it can kill everyone on Earth by impact.
To help you, you were given a survival suit which in addition to keeping you alive against the odds to get in here, have gloves that seem made to interact with this new environment. And with that little bit of an opening, your adventure begins.
Over the course of the game, you will get more details about what’s going on through explanations from the woman as well as an intruder on the radio waves leaving you with dual stories and asking you which one you believe. It is a very nice setup, but ultimately, it doesn’t really take advantage of it, as the ending feels kinda hollow, explaining a bare minimum to complete the tale and leaves just about everything else you might question out there unanswered. It’s rather clear the story here was an afterthought, even if the premise works amazingly well.
Graphics: Sparse but stylized, Q.U.B.E definitely keeps a unique look about itself. Every level in this game is made up of soft-cornered cubes (primarily white) which will shape literally everything, creating a clean, sterile, and soft look that dominates the game. Your own suit adds to this illusion as you see your hands outfitted in gloves that fit the motif.
But sterile does not mean lifeless in this case. As you play, you will find the corridors and rooms morphing around you and guiding you to each puzzle, giving the game just a touch of extra character beyond the initial look.
Sadly, however, this is about all I can say about the look of the game because you will never see anyone else or anything else in the game. It’s just you, the puzzles (and while they are each unique, they are all made of the handful of parts), and the shifting paths to reach them, making for very little to talk about image-wise.
Sound: Much like the graphics for this game, the audio elements will also be very sparse. You will get a little minimalist background song for a moment here and there, but there really isn’t a lot to talk about for music. Nor is there for sound effects, as really the only sounds needed in the game are you activating and deactivating things, some wall movement, and a couple thuds. This game is very heavy on the physics to back the puzzles it uses and very few different materials let’s it get away with a minimalist approach fairly well.
And while the voices fair better, it isn’t by much. Generally you will hear people talk in relatively predictable times (usually once between and maybe once during each of the seven chapters that make this game up) as their conversation carry the plot to it’s inevitable conclusion, but they do not do much else. Their are exactly two people who talk through the game: the woman who realizes you are awake and guides you when the radio waves allow it, and an intruding voice on those same waves. Both do a good enough job, but nothing stands out as exceptional considering the positions both are playing.
Gameplay: For how “meh” the presentation of this game can get, the gameplay is a lot more solid. You will play this game completely from a first person perspective, including the few actual cutscenes. From this view you will go from room to room solving physics-based puzzles that are in the way of your journey to the center of the artifact. You will do so with a very simple but direct interaction: left-mouse button turns on what you are clicking on, while the right mouse button turns it off. From this basic functionality (which works so long as you can see and point at it… range does not matter) you will find yourself activating magnets, springs, turning rooms, and many other things, often in combinations to do anything from position lasers to making sure a ball gets to the right colored pit with perfect precision.
And while the work on these puzzles is absolutely perfect, it’s a shame that they are rarely ever challenging. Most of the puzzles in this game I finished fairly quickly, leaving me wanting more, which is the other issue this game has. Even if I found the puzzles overall too easy, they were solid, fun, and absolutely brilliantly crafted, but there are also relatively few of them due to the length of the game. I am notoriously slow at games I play as I want to explore and enjoy what it has to offer, and I still finished the game in about 3-4 hours. To try to counter this brevity, the Director’s Cut version of this game also includes a set of time-attack missions, but this feels like a weak tacked-on solution that just couldn’t hold my interest where there is a lot of room to expand the main game to help explain what the hell actually happened.
Bugs: This game was pretty bug free… the only complaint I had was odd loading times when continuing mid-chapter, as if the game loaded basic stuff for each chapter at the start and then didn’t expect the user to use save points, but start at the beginning of the newest one whenever they began playing.
Overall: Q.U.B.E. is a very solid puzzle game, but aside from it’s stark design and use of cubes to make up just about everything, it really doesn’t do anything to stand out on it’s own. It’s basically a portal clone using on/off switches instead of portals without a GlaDOS or turrets to add character to the game. Is it good? Yes… but I can definitely point to better right here on this site, both in style and in challenge, depending on where you want that bar to slide.
Source’s Listed System Requirements:
- 2.0 Ghz CPU (Dual Core Recommended)
- 2GB RAM
- NVIDIA 8000 series or higher (Shader Model 3 Compatible & 128 MB or more memory)
- Windows XP SP2, Vista, or 7
- 1100MB hard drive space
- AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz
- 8GB RAM
- Nvidia Geforce 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM
- and Windows 7