I kind of feel a bit sad because this game is limited by one very slight flaw, but I really want to talk about it anyways and it's been a bit since the last one we talked about!
Q.U.B.E ((I'm just going to take the periods out from now on, kthnx)) is arguably a spiritual successor to the glory of the original Portal, a game that heralded building learning on intuitive thinking on how to overcome the obstacles given to you, the player, with the tool you've got. Created by Toxic Games using the ubiquitous Unreal Engine, Quick Understanding of Block Extrusion offers a very simple premise and some stellar design decisions to quickly immerse and push you into the game. The object? Use your Qube Gloves to manipulate different colored blocks in varied ways to proceed through the sectors.
QUBE is...well, largely colorless. The white walls of the interior are pretty much just that (and varying shades of grey) and the majority of the color comes from the manipulable blocks. Each sticks out and draws your attention, so there's very little to be confused about. What IS well done here is the way the environment morphs and flows around you. The entire play area is made of blocks that seem to shift, undulate, and contract as you move. The best parallel I could draw would be the reassembling walls from Portal 2, but that really doesn't do it much justice. It makes for a sterility in your environment that lends to the mystery of the story of why you're there in the first place and what is really going on.
All told, the graphics are superb and aside from a little bit of weird glitching at the very bottom of my screen ((though I'm not too sure what it was and why it was happening, therefore I'm not really going to lay fault on the game)), everything looked real and was easy to interact with. On my rig, I had about half the options turned on and was able to easily enjoy it thanks to the Unreal Engine's tuning.
Not a lot to speak of here. The soundtrack behind your movements isn't as huge a part as would be evident, but the underlying drive with it is technical enough to make you wonder where you are. It gives a...well, lab rat feel to the whole game, testing and moving about for an unseen purpose. It's equal parts creepy and moving and very well done. SFX are also on par. Each style of block makes it's own particular noise when activated and brings you more into the immersion overall.
There is no voice acting, however, but I'm not upset by that really. The story to the game is one that doesn't need voice acting or a major story. ((Indeed, I had more fun trying to guess and make my own story up as I went. The ending settled it, sure, but I was still enjoying finding out for myself and making my guesses)) It benefits from this play-style and allows the game to be quite a bit less humongous than Portal because sound clips can chew quite a bit of memory on a game disc.
There's not a lot to speak of here, either. You've got two gloves (controlled by Mouse1 and Mouse2) as well as mouse-look, Spacebar to jump, and WASD to move. That's really it. It fits in well with the minimalistic nature of this game that you don't need to make things overblown or needlessly intrinsic. Keeping it simple works very well and lent me to jumping in and picking everything up pretty effortlessly. QUBE seems to want you to do that; pick it up, get the premise and controls instantly, and then, when you're comfy, it starts throwing puzzles your way.
The gameplay is, as previously mentioned, built to be wholly intuitive. There are NO tutorials in this game, merely your own willingness to experiment and to understand the nature of the gloves you are wearing. Nothing tells you how each color block works. QUBE demands that you figure it out on your own and, aside from one outstandingly devilish puzzle near the end of the game, most of the puzzles are easy enough to get the idea for. It's all very well done and with the threat of death non-existent, you're not punished in anyway at all for taking risks or for experimenting. It's compelling beyond belief and I easily lost myself in the hours I played on it.
However, therein lies the one downside to the game: it's criminally short. Coming in at just about four hours of gameplay for me ((being of average intellect and skill of control)), it's a much shorter game than you'd imagine. That being said, what it accomplishes in those four hours is why I've called this game the spiritual successor to Portal. It's quick, deceptively difficult in places, doesn't overstay its welcome, and leaves you feeling quite satisfied upon completion. Replay is sheerly at your behest as there's no online leaderboards or any other ranking system, but since Toxic has hinted at some DLC later this year, it might be worth a visit again.
I really can't say enough good about this game. It's got a lovely minimalism in an industry that has been inundated recently with games that are trying to be the bestest best at graphics fidelity and overblown story and online multiplayer and so on. QUBE looks at all of that and throws it to the side, preferring to give you a lovely brain-bender that'll waste a few hours of your life as you play and enjoy the visuals that are simple and elegant. Bright colors pop at you, you hear things, you feel things, and you find yourself looking at your environment in a critical manner.
In short, it succeeds at what it set out to do and that earns it my seal of approval. It doesn't try to be the best or better than Portal or Modern Warfare or any other FPS style game. It doesn't need to. It just gives you a wholly contained story and gameplay style that is about as new as any I've seen. Especially in an industry that has been showing signs of stale, copycat games. If it took cues from Portal, a genre-redefiner itself, then it did a good job and a LOT of praise should be thrown towards the three guys who built it.
Yeah. Three. Portal 2 had the immense Valve team working on it. QUBE had three guys at the head and a small team under them. Learn from this, Valve. Please. We're still waiting for Half-life Ep 3...it's not all THAT hard to make...is it?
Suffice to say, at only $15 dollars on Steam, QUBE is firmly set as a Must-Buy in my book. Toxic should be encouraged to make more games, given the support they need. This is quality stuff and while it may be a bit too simple for most who like ramming F-14s up one another's ass, that's okay. Sometimes, being simple is very very effective and very very satisfying.