We’re probably never getting Portal 3 but that’s ok. I’ve found something I’m just as happy about in Q.U.B.E 2.
It’s difficult not to compare the journies and experiences of both franchises. Portal 1 had a proof of concept feel about it with the game taking the player from one maze to the next, listening to an antagonistic AI in the background as they go, but still never realising its full potential. Q.U.B.E was a bit more back to basics, lacking the narration and production values of Valve, yet still offering some hefty brain teasers and interesting dynamics.
Now, just like Portal 2 was a massive step above in just about every conceivable way, so is Q.U.B.E 2. From the presentation to the puzzle-solving, Toxic Games are revitalized, inspired and finally ready to step out of the shadows of that obnoxious AI and her unhealthy obsession with cake.
This time around, you’re in the shoes of Amelia Cross who’s woken up on a bizarre, blatantly alien planet. Fortunately for Amelia, she’s in contact with another survivor called Emma, though there’s something about their relationship which seems a little bit off. Almost secretive. The aim as in the previous game is to solve many puzzles – some challenging, some not-so challenging – and try to get back home. However, Q.U.B.E 2 is quite keen to throw in some surprises, twists and turns along the way to not only give some life to this new-found world, but also test the complexities of their characters.
And that’s an immediate difference in that Amelia and Emma have plenty to say to each other. We’re talking Wheatley levels of dialogue here, yet there’s something different and actually more intriguing about their connection. That’s what Toxic Games have done so masterfully this time around is actually brought their puzzling A-Game but also given it some serious depth and context. Often times, the big story isn’t the puzzles or the alien planet, but it’s those snippets of dialogue where you learn something more about both characters while moving onto the next room.
Speaking of puzzles, this still follows the Q.U.B.E formula of giving you different coloured blocks with varying properties. You activate them using this new alien suit which gradually upgrades as you go through the game, giving you tougher challenges the deeper you go. Blue gives you a springboard to reach higher platforms, Red creates a protruding block which can both protect you and stop other blocks from going the wrong way. There’s also a Green Block which spews out a small green block that can be used as a stair, or perhaps as a flying missile. It’s going to be down to you to figure it out each time and you won’t find a hint or a clue to guide you. Get comfy, you’re on your own in there.
And that’s what I like about Q.U.B.E. 2, it gives you fair warning. The puzzles are really well spaced out and genuinely prepare you for the tougher tasks ahead. One minute, you’ll feel super confident and smug about yourself solving something in seconds flat, the next you’re pulling your hair out and biting your nails and you still don’t have a clue after twenty minutes. Then it hits you and you feel stupid because the solution was staring you in the face all along. Damn you, Toxic. Damn you all.
But the thing is, you rarely stay mad. You may even smirk because you should have known better. You’ll promise to learn from this and go into the next puzzle full of confidence and sometimes that’ll work to your advantage. Sometimes you’ll just hit a brick wall again and wonder where you’re going wrong. The thing with Q.U.B.E 2 is that everyone will have strengths and weaknesses going in, but it’s also a game that everyone can play and enjoy. On the basis of that alone, I feel like Toxic Games have accommodated it well. At some point, no matter who you are, Q.U.B.E 2 will make you feel a sense of satisfaction because you’ve got the cut of its jib. Kind of like when you solved some of those really evil puzzles in The Witness and couldn’t wipe the smile off your face ten minutes later.
And yet, where I feel Toxic Games must be commended most of all is how absolutely stunning this all looks. Q.U.B.E 2 might just be the most beautiful puzzler ever designed. The outdoor environments work amazingly, the water looks cool and refreshing, the squeaky shininess all around coupled with the glaring light effects is genuinely authentic and blinding at times. The level of polish is outstanding and the courage to move outside of the four white walls and venture outdoors to experiment with new elements really gives the game a new lease of life. Whether you’re manipulating magnets to keep a block from falling into a pit of despair or turning on a fan to blow it to the other side of a room, not only do the physics respond accordingly, but it looks slick, fluid and smooth while doing it.
There are occasionally a few graphical breakups, though. Particularly when panning the screen as you see textures pull apart slightly, particularly on the higher resolutions. You can also be prone to a little bit of glitching, like reaching platform ledges you shouldn’t be able to or slipping off things that you should be able to reach. Usually, it’s a case of timing things just right, but occasionally luck won’t be on your side and you’ll be forced to rethink your strategy a little bit.
I did also find the mid-section of the game a bit padded out which really slowed the game’s momentum. Not in an overly negative way as I feel it was important to the structure of the story and also to the puzzle types, but for a few chapters it does feel like you’re doing very similar, samey things and towards the end you’re kind of willing the game to get itself back into gear again. Which it does.
But Q.U.B.E 2s’ strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. If it’s not tripping you up, it’s patting you on the back and giving you the chance to savour the moment and appreciate the artist wizadry. Not to mention the absolutely bone-chilling, goosebump enducing soundtrack and superb voice-acting.
Q.U.B.E 2 is a massive statement of intent from Toxic Games with its energy, enthusiasm and overall excellence. They’re in nobodies shadow now. They’re the ones casting it.
+ Well balanced, occasionally open-ended puzzle-solving
+ Beautiful graphics
+ Engaging, intriguing narrative
– Mid-section pacing felt a bit off
– Quite glitchy in parts
– Slight graphical breakups
9 out of 10
Tested on PC