GAME NAME: Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut
DEVELOPER(S): Toxic Games
PUBLISHER(S): Toxic Games
PLATFORM(S): PS4 (reviewed), XBox One, PC
GENRE(S): First Person Puzzler
RELEASE DATE(S): July 21, 2015
You wake up in a sterile-looking room with only a woman’s disembodied voice as your companion. You do, however, have a piece of technology that allows you to physically manipulate your environment, which you will use to solve puzzles and uncover a mystery. Now you’re thinking with portals!
Nope, no, wait, you’re not. Wrong game, mostly.
Q.U.B.E. – which stands for “Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion” – is a physics puzzle game where you traverse a series of rooms, solving puzzles to enter the next puzzle room. The gimmick here is that you’re wearing special gloves that control certain colored blocks, which have different properties. Red slides, yellow creates stairs, blue bounces; that sort of thing. A very brief introduction gets you off into the puzzle rooms, where you’ll use blocks to traverse areas, or to get environmental objects moved to where they need to be. Think Portal’s Companion Cube, except more a “Sidekick Sphere” that unlocks rooms or opens up pathways. The obvious allusions to Portal and Portal 2 continue as the game sends you into less-sterile-looking environments, much like the “behind the walls” portions of the Valve classics. You even get a female voice talking to you, giving you information – although she’s much friendlier then Portal’s GLaD0S.
Although this is where it diverts from its Portalic influence. Apparently the original release of the game didn’t include a story – it was a series of connected puzzle boxes with no real denouement. The Director’s Cut includes a plot, delivered by a few one-sided conversations that people have at you. While this is common in these first-person immersion style games, it does create a few logic questions in Q.U.B.E., such as “how does anyone even know I can hear them?” and “why get some chucklenut astronaut to give instructions when someone qualified like an engineer or designer could talk to me?” and “it’s nice to know that the voices can hear each other and wait for one-another to stop before someone else starts speaking.” The conversations, though one-sided, can sometimes be pretty interesting, touching on insanity, loneliness, and the dreaded SPACE MADNESS.
But all this makes me wonder why I don’t just play Portal, or watch Moon. While many of the puzzles are interesting and very satisfying to complete – especially when set in complete darkness, or when everything finally gets lined up perfectly and that damn Sidekick Sphere rolls exactly where you need it to – the rest of the package is just devoid of personality. Even with the story (with its blander-than-bland ending) adding to the package, Q.U.B.E. leaves a bit to be desired.
I know that’s a fair amount of complaining, but the puzzles are solid nonetheless. Many require a great deal of trial and error, but most rooms have a reset button and are generally pretty forgiving for failure. Twisting sections of walls while your Sidekick Sphere rolls along is particularly exciting to watch unfold. Unfortunately, the first-person controls in consoles will never be as precise as on a PC, and a game without auto-targeting or aim assist makes some of the minute “shots” you need to make with your gloves needlessly difficult. On the flip side of that coin, however, your Sidekick Sphere will helpfully lock into a beneficial trajectory, gliding in a perfectly straight line to its destination. Seeing those two inconsistencies juxtaposed is particularly weird though.
The Director’s Cut also adds time-trial rooms, if you feel like skipping all of the plot stuff. These time rooms are leaderboard-linked as well, so you can measure up to the speed of others playing the same missions. They differ slightly in some respects, such as having power-ups and many, many more shortcuts to trim your time down. It’s an inviting spin on the more cerebral gameplay of the story portion of the game, and worth a shot to zip through some quick stages.
The aesthetic, however sparse and guilty of me-tooism, is well done. The lack of music, the low hum of the space station, the crackle of incoming messages. A few interesting touches, like the disorienting nature of the repeating square walls, adds to the claustrophobia. There’s a ghosting effect that I’m not entirely sure is supposed to be there when moving left and right with hands up – the faded image of your gloves tracks briefly behind your hands – but if it was intentional, it’s a very nice touch. Apparently Toxic Games is working on an Oculus Rift version, which would be very interesting to experience. And the voice-acting is very well-done also; so while the story may not be the best, at least the voice talent brought their all to the table.
There are some things this game gets very right, and puzzle fans will have a good time getting their brains all worked up over some of these damn colored blocks. The addition of a plot is a nice try, but Q.U.B.E. is trying very hard to be Portal in this sense, yet without the rock-solid writing and humor. If you’re going for a Portal-style clone, you need to get the personality right. Although its look is close (and quite good on its own), the writing falls flat of being anywhere near the greatness of Valve’s instant classic. Come for the gameplay though.