Developer: Toxic Games
Q.U.B.E. ostensibly stands for Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion, and as names go, it's absolutely spot-on. After waking up in a mysterious facility clad in a pair of powerful gloves, the entire first person experience revolves around extruding (i.e. moving) coloured blocks out of the floor and walls by simply clicking on them. Different colours of block denote different abilities, such as red blocks that form linear platforms, yellow customisable staircases, blue bounce pads and freely moveable green cubes.
New features such as pulleys, revolving walls and lenses are introduced in later stages, but engaging with the environment is as accessible as jabbing the left mouse button to extrude a block or clicking its fellow to retract them. It's a masterpiece of streamlining.
These simple cuboid elements are assembled in increasingly imaginative ways. Extruding a few platforms may be child's play, but using them to deflect a rolling ball into coloured filters and direct it into the correct receptacle becomes an exercise in precision timing and lateral thinking. Getting a green block to where you need it most would be a piece of cake if only you could pick it up, but manoeuvring the walls and floor becomes the order of the day. Levels sometimes resemble elegant mechanisms that need to be assembled in advance, or insane obstacle courses begging to be configured and enjoyed. Tight physics and the simple controls allow you to get on with the task in hand rather than fighting the mechanics, and I was genuinely taken aback by the sheer variety that Toxic Games delivered with their blocky premise.
One notable section takes place in pitch blackness, which requires you to individually illuminate blocks. It's breathtakingly stylish, though once the shock wears off, you'll realise that it's essentially just a memory test. The darkness doesn't actually add anything to the solution beyond making the extrusion take a lot longer than normal, and a lot more aggravating to boot.
Otherwise, the puzzles are intelligent, varied, well-crafted and thoughtfully paced... but there's a catch. The fact that interactive elements are clearly highlighted means that you'll rarely feel that 'Eureka' moment when exploration and luck come together; when you feel that you solved the puzzle by yourself without being railroaded by the developers. While the likes of Trine 2 and Portal deliver these endorphine-soaked moments in spades, Q.U.B.E.'s rooms can all be solved by just working backwards from the objective and seeing what blocks you have to play with. There's still plenty of satisfaction to be found here, just tempered with the knowledge that you've essentially just assembled a jigsaw after being given all four corners.
Mentioning Portal wasn't just a throwaway comment. I can't put it off any longer. Q.U,B.E. is quite different from Valve's puzzle juggernaut in terms of game mechanics, but visually, it's a dead ringer. Which is to say, of course, that it looks great. The stark primary colours and crisp, clean lines make the experience exceptionally attractive if a little on the minimalistic side, and I'm unwilling to mark it down for looking a bit like that other first person puzzle game.
Unlike that other first person puzzle game, however, Q.U.B.E. completely eschews any hint of a plot and uses gameplay as its only hook.
This poses an interesting and controversial question: do puzzle games actually need a storyline? I frequently argue that they don't, after all, Tetris and Bejeweled wouldn't be improved by shoehorning a nonsensical premise into the mix. But by placing the player's hands on-screen, Toxic Games have unwittingly created a protagonist, and many players will doubtlessly feel short-changed by never really understanding why you're extruding all those blocks in the first place. Q.U.B.E. suffers from a vexing lack of personality, and the lack of time trials or high scores are a glaring omission that could have filled this void.
Sadly, being short-changed is the other major problem with Q.U.B.E. Linear puzzle games are bereft of replay value by design, and a short campaign length (probably a couple of hours depending on whether you get stuck on the later levels) compounds the weak raw value that Q.U.B.E. brings to the table. It's still worth your small time investment, but to fully enjoy the experience, you'll want to limit yourself to a couple of levels per day. Considering that there are only nine, it still won't take you long... and £10 feels just a little too steep for a wholehearted recommendation.
- Generally impressive puzzles
- Effortlessly stylish
- Accessible and satisfying...
- ... but lacks true inventiveness
- Lacks personality, invites reductive Portal comparisons
- Weak raw value, demands high scores/ speed runs/ metagame
The Short Version: Q.U.B.E. is a surprisingly effective puzzler that makes the most of simple ingredients. Low replay value and lack of a strong storyline may disappoint some, but the gameplay and art direction are more than solid enough to warrant a purchase.