Just as it was true of the original, Q.U.B.E 2 owes a great deal of its game mechanics, visuals and style to Valve’s seminal puzzle classic. The key differentiating factor is that instead of playing with portals, it’s cubes that are at the heart of the game’s puzzles, but is that enough to differentiate the game from Portal?
Awaking in a strange alien environment, constructed of little else but cubes, archaeologist Amelia Cross is discombobulated to say the least. She has no memory of how she came to be trapped within this ‘prison’ and no clue as to what she should do next. Fortunately, she is not alone, and the mysterious Commander Sutcliffe is able to communicate with Amelia through her space suit’s inner systems. Amelia must find her way to the top of this massive structure she now occupies to make her escape and she’ll have to solve a lot of puzzles involving cubes on her way.
Before we get to those puzzles though, let’s discuss the plot. It attempts a pastiche of the narratives from both Bioshock and Portal, but falls short of either. Commander Sutcliffe is obtuse to the point of absurdity. Never giving a straight answer to a question, she is so deliberately illusive that it’s a wonder Amelia even remotely trusts her. Unfortunately, with a clunky script and wooden vocal performances, I never truly believed in either of the games central characters and cared very little for their plight. The plot is best ignored and something to leave in the background whilst the player focuses on the puzzling. Fortunately for Q.U.B.E. 2, the puzzling is very good.
Inhabiting this space from a first-person point of view, Amelia is physically ineffectual. She can interact with little of her environment, has a puny jump, and moves so slowly that you’ll find yourself asking why the developers didn’t include a sprint button. Fortunately, the futuristic suit she occupies is far more effective, as it can control certain squares within her cube-ridden confinement.
Early in the game, the suit can generate red platforms to protrude like a glowing phallus from specific squares. These same squares can later be turned blue, transforming them into the equivalent of a super trampoline, or green, which will generate a green cube. This green cubes cannot be directly interacted with, but can be manoeuvred around the space by a combination of the red and blue powers.
The controls are robust, so it’s easy to control these myriad systems on the fly. As with the best puzzle games, these relatively simple commands are combined to fiendish effect in an effort to prevent Amelia from making her way through the portal-like puzzle rooms on her way to the exit.
The puzzles achieve the delicate balance of weaving together the simplistic with the complex. I had a genuine sense of satisfaction once my route through a previously incomprehensible room became clear. It’s a credit to the developer, that despite introducing a plethora of different environmental traps – such as fans, pressure pads, timed elements and flames – the game never descended into chaos and confusion. This is achieved through introducing each element gradually and ensuring that the player understands how the new mechanics work before fully incorporating them. By the time the final yellow power is introduced, which allows you to spawn as many green, blue or red panels in an environment as you wish, the difficulty and challenge really starts ramping up.
There are limitations to the puzzling. There is no free-form approach to solving the puzzles, so the player is unable to improvise their way to a innovative solution. Instead, there’s the right way – the developer’s way – and then there’s a whole lot of wrong ways. Yet, you’ll find yourself not caring. I know I didn’t. The trail of breadcrumbs that Toxic Games leaves you through each level were far too delicious and well placed for me to mind following.
Thanks to its derivative nature, Q.U.B.E. 2 never quite escapes the shadow cast by Portal. There’s too many similarities within its core mechanics, structure, and themes for it to stand alone entirely. And yet, once the player accepts that, they will find a compelling puzzler. There’s roughly five to six hours of gameplay here and, once Q.U.B.E. 2 is completed, little reason to return to its embrace. Yet whilst it burns it does so brightly, compelling the player to the end with several puzzles that equal Valve’s best.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4