“Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut” review

 

qube front

“Q.U.B.E: Director’s Cut” isn’t reinventing the wheel with its gameplay, visuals,  music or story, but it is an amusing brain teaser for players with three or four hours of spare time.

The game, which began life as the final project of a group of game-design students, was initially released in 2012 for Windows and OS X as a 3D, first-person puzzle game in the style of “Portal.” It was well received by both critics and consumers, prompting developers Toxic Games to revamp and re-release the game for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii U in 2015.

Here’s the setup: You, the player, wake in a room made up of white cubes. A female voice explains that you just underwent deep-space travel and likely have amnesia. She continues to say that you are Earth’s last hope at stopping this ship (that you are apparently inside) from destroying the planet and the entire human race. You then proceed to save the world by solving puzzles using brightly-colored cubes. This is a silly story, and it wasn’t a part of the original release of “Q.U.B.E.”

This new iteration, the “Director’s Cut,” adds an overarching narrative to what was before simply a series of increasingly difficult puzzles. This new story, conveyed completely via radio-style communications during each section of the game, is fully voiced and well-acted by the performers, but it truly does feel as though it was added on after the fact. The disembodied voices attempt to give the player a sense that there are choices to be made at each step of gameplay that will result in a change in the overall narrative, but the fact is that there are no choices to be made at all. Save for one or two secret areas housing only an extra puzzle or two, each puzzle can be solved in only one way. Despite one of the voices on the radio repeatedly yelling in your ear to stop solving puzzles and “get out of there” the closer you get to the end, there is literally no other choice unless you choose to simply put down the controller and stop playing. It seems odd to me that the developers would find it necessary to insert narrative context into what was originally designed to be simply a series of puzzles.

Gameplay is simple to learn, and doesn’t get all that much more complex as the game progresses. The player character is equipped with gloves that allow interaction with special blocks placed throughout each puzzle area. Red blocks can be pushed or pulled, blue blocks can be used to launch the player or other blocks in the air, yellow blocks always appear in lines of three and can be used as stair-like structures, green blocks and balls are maneuvered using the other colored blocks into target areas, and purple blocks allow for rotation of certain portions of the puzzle areas.

Each colored block has a specific function vital to solving each puzzle.

Each colored block has a specific function vital to solving each puzzle.

Later in the game there are some other types of challenges, like directing beams of light into target areas, and there is one puzzle near the end of the game that suddenly does away with all the previously established rules and introduces white blocks that are magnetic and also reflect light beams, and they’re different sizes and… I’ll just say that what the game refers to as “the hardest puzzle in the game” may only be so because it throws away most of the rules given to the player leading up to that point. Overall, however, I only found myself utterly frustrated two times during my three-and-a-half-hour playthrough. The first speedbump was the puzzle I just mentioned, and the second was due to a green block repeatedly phasing through portions of a different area’s blocks and barring me from solving the puzzle in the way it was intended.

This new version of the game also touts an original score. I admittedly don’t know what kind of music was included in the original game, but the spacey synthetic beeps and boops of this soundtrack certainly added to the other-worldly ambiance of the whole experience. I couldn’t say that I specifically recall any of the music from my playthrough, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think that the music itself fit the atmosphere of the game well enough that it simply became part of the world.

Ten new time-attack-style puzzles are also included in this new edition of the game. Each puzzle has three set times for completion to earn either a gold, silver or bronze medal, and earning medals in the early puzzles grants you access to the later ones. This is a fine addition, and there are some new game mechanics added like pickups that offer momentary speed boosts and increases to jump height. I personally don’t care for timed gameplay, so it’s not a selling point for me, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a bit of replay value added to an otherwise short, linear gameplay experience.

With an asking price of $10 digitally on all major console and PC platforms, I’d say “Q.U.B.E.: Director’s Cut” is a solid choice if you want something other than the “Portal” games  to satisfy your first-person, 3D, mysterious techno-puzzle solving needs.

A copy of this game was provided to GCV for review purposes.