Modern puzzle games have evolved so far past their retro counterparts that at times it can be difficult to see where the genre got its beginnings. Back in the day, all a game needed was a bunch of colourful block puzzles, or it needed to be a poor rip-off of Tetris, and you had a hit on your hands. These days most puzzle games have some other sort of hook, either a deep and involving storyline or maybe some sort of strange visual quirk. Needless to say, we demand slightly more from our entertainment than we used to get with games like ‘Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine’.
Q.U.B.E. 2 is an exploration-based first-person puzzle game that puts you in the narratively confusing boots of some sort of scientist or geologist as she explores a set of mysterious ruins without really knowing why. The game, in fact, starts out with a sequence that was basically impossible to place chronologically. Your main character is wandering through a sandstorm in what seems like a near-death haze, and at no point does it become clear when this was supposed to be taking place.
If we for now just try to forget about the opening scene, then the story seems to concern a woman who finds herself in a mysterious ruin, the only person she has any contact with being someone she hears over her headset. She must explore an alien installation known as the Q.U.B.E. to stop it from potentially destroying humanity…OR DOES SHE?!!! Yes, as you probably could have guessed for yourself, the story is one of those that has many twists and turns at various points throughout, culminating in a split-pathed ending that basically boils down to which of two strangers you trust the most.
Anyway, ignoring the slightly confusing story, the game mainly focuses around using different coloured cubes to solve a variety of physics and jumping puzzles. At first, you only have access to cubes that were already there, but as you progress, you slowly unlock the ability to create your own cubes to solve the puzzles in a variety of ways. The orange cubes create platforms you can stand on or use to prop up or block other cubes; the blue cubes make objects bounce off of them; the green cubes create movable blocks. There is also a variety of other elements that come into play when solving puzzles, such as balls, fire, oil slicks and buttons. At the beginning of the game, most, if not all, of the puzzles are easily solvable within a few minutes. However, as you progress, you do eventually get your teeth into more challenging puzzles, although how challenging they are is debatable. It is fortunate that most of the puzzles will give you a feeling of ‘duh, of course that was the answer’ when you solve them, instead of the much more annoying ‘how was I even supposed to figure that out?’.
Despite the few more challenging puzzles, the game is still criminally short, just like its predecessor. If you know what you’re doing, you can actually solve the entire thing in barely over 2 hours, and that includes all of the time you spend wandering around uncovering story threads. On top of that, the main character doesn’t move very fast, and there isn’t a run or sprint function of any kind. It doesn’t bear thinking about how short the game might have been if a proper walking speed had been implemented, or at the very least a run button. One of the biggest gripes with the puzzles is that it is difficult to be sure if you’re solving them properly. That might sound strange, but half the time when you manage to complete a segment, you can’t be 100% sure that you’ve not tricked the physics engine in some way. It’s possible that this is all just a strange feeling created by the game itself, but it is just as likely that it was impossible to actually plan for all of the ways that the physics engine could be broken.
Unfortunately, the physics engine isn’t the only thing that is broken. While most of the game managed to be bug free, aside from the aforementioned physics, there was one huge issue towards the end of the game. At one point in the literal final puzzle before the ending choice you have to make, the game crashed, twice, sending us back quite a considerable way. While this did eventually stop happening, it was almost bad enough to make us want to never bother finishing the thing in the first place.
Visually the game looks pretty stunning, even on a normal PS4. The colour palette is mostly bright and colourful, and every area feels like it has a distinctive look when compared to most of the others. Having said that, most of the areas also manage to feel like they all exist in the same universe, which is a good thing too considering the current flood of games that can have that problem on Steam recently.
The soundtrack, as is often the case with indie titles, in one of the biggest touted features of the game. While none of the music in particular really stands out, there are a few tracks that were fun to listen to, and the ambient sounds will be coming to a raver chill-out room near you…probably. Having said that, there are some segments of the music that sound suspiciously like vuvuzelas, and much of the soundtrack sounds like it’s trying too hard to evoke feelings of deep, alien mystery. Jokes aside, the music for the game does a good job of sounding like an epic alien landscape while still being relaxing to listen to while you try to figure out puzzles.
Developer: Toxic Games
Publisher: Trapped Nerve Games
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: 13th March 2018