Video games seem predestined to experiment with our intuitions about the physical world, yet for a long time the medium hardly ever went beyond the endlessly looping stages in Super Mario Bros. or twisting corridors in Ocarina of Time, until Portal introduced a fresh concept and thoroughly explored its possibilities. Antichamber seems to strike the same chords as Valve's surprise hit, but on closer look it's a very different experience.
The setup looks like another human experiment type scenario, but there are no definite clues that confirm this. All the player gets in terms of instructions are cryptic life lessons and puzzle "hints" on motivational posters around the lab. The hook for Antichamber is its strong use of non-Euclidean physics and visual illusions - things may be larger or smaller than they appear, many paths lead to the same outcome, and when you turn around, things look entirely different than before. For the first hour or so, Antichamber doesn't really appear as a puzzle game, but is all about exploring and learning the laws of this strange world. While much of it appears arbitrary at first (and some of it is), there are some regularities it that make orientation much easier as soon as one figures out.
Eventually one finds a gun that can suck up and shoot multi-colored blocks to activate switches, build platforms, and more. From this point on actual puzzles with door switches, laser barriers and movable boxes take the spotlight, while the strange physics take almost become background noise for a while (they do make a comeback, though). The aim becomes always getting the next block gun variant, with which the game usually teases the player way in advance. That's also where the game starts to run into some problems, though. Often it is necessary to trace back into other rooms, to get block ammunition for the gun, for example. The area to take into account for solutions also grows bigger and bigger. One can always drop back into the Antechamber, with a map to pick any previously visited location, but that resets all puzzles and empties the gun. Getting from point A from point B can become a real chore with all the non-logical connections, one way streets and dead ends. It's also often not clear whether you can solve a puzzle with what you got, are supposed to try and carry blocks from another area, or need to get a new gun altogether before being able to proceed. Finally getting through a problem feels especially rewarding against the unreal challenges of this intriguing world, if you can make it through the sometimes frustrating meandering in between, that is.
The game needs to be scolded for its interface, though: Controls are hardcoded to the WASD scheme, so as a leftie I can't play more than 15 minutes without getting cramps in my hand. The starting screen also shows a time limit, but when it runs out, the game is like "whatever!" and just goes on.