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Review: Q.U.B.E. 2 Punctuates Physics Based Puzzles with Sci-Fi Thrills

Image courtesy Toxic Games

Q.U.B.E. 2 is Toxic Games follow up to 2011’s Q.U.B.E.,  a physics-based puzzle game by that’s long drawn comparisons to a less punctuated but more popular title, Valve’s Orange Box hit, Portal. In Q.U.B.E. 2, , there’s less sarcasm and playfulness and more mystery and intrigue. Its predecessor, Q.U.B.E., was heavily criticized for its similarities to Portal, especially considering that the original version of the game was all puzzles and no story. The Q.U.B.E. Director’s Cut added much needed context to your actions. Q.U.B.E. 2 in contrast, took that feedback and ran even further with it, and was from the ground up with a focus on story–which is immediately evident. You’ll play as Amelia Cross, an archaeologist who wakes up in the midst of a storm somewhere in space, with no idea how she got there or what exactly has happened to her.

Image courtesy Toxic Games

You start your journey as Amelia stumbling through an alien landscape, and soon finds yourself inside an entire world of glossy alien technology with no real explanation of how you got there. You also have a nifty glove that gives you the power to control cubes (or Q.U.B.E.S. perhaps?). You make contact with Emma Sutcliffe, an expedition survivor who’s ostensibly trying to help you and to uncover the secrets of the alien race whose vessel was the setting of the original Q.U.B.E. You’re not entirely sure if you can trust her, but she’s your only contact in this dark and lonely world. 

Image courtesy Toxic Games

Dark and lonely though it may be, Q.U.B.E. 2 is also gorgeous. Built on the Unreal Engine, it achieves some great fidelity. Every surface is lickably glossy and the environments are very atmospheric. You’re introduced to the four mechanics of Q.U.B.E. 2 as you progress through the chambers, and  the story, which is pieced together as you go. What Q.U.B.E. 2 does best is create tension and maintain an air of mystery. From the get-go you don’t know who you should trust, where exactly you are, or if the things you’re doing are going to save you or kill you. While it took awhile for the story to sink its hooks into me, by about halfway through Q.U.B.E. 2 I came  across some creepy statues and got a few communications from parts unknown: now I was compelled to find out more. 

Image courtesy Toxic Games

Game mechanics in Q.U.B.E. 2 are fairly simple, and the gameplay can easily be picked up in a few minutes. Your super cool glowing alien tech glove gives you four basic abilities, each represented by a different color (with symbol assists for the colorblind available).  This is another major shift, as the original game only allowed you to interact with cubes which already existed in your environment. You’ll start with just one ability, and as you progress through the 80 different puzzles over 11 levels, you’ll gain others. Q.U.B.E. 2 does a good job of introducing new elements slowly–the first puzzle after you get the bounce ability, for example, won’t stump anyone. The next will ramp up the difficulty and so on until, by the end of the chapter, you’ve got yourself a real head-scratcher that usually incorporates all of the abilities you’ve gained until that point.  

Image courtesy Toxic Games

While the puzzles and mechanics aren’t always original for this type of physics-based game, they’re a good mix of challenge levels. You’ll breeze through a set and then find yourself at your own personal puzzle Everest. Even the puzzle-minded people will find themselves stopped up once in a while. And while at first, the four basic skills are unadulterated, other environmental factors, like fans, moving platforms, oil, magnets and fire will complicate things further.  

Image courtesy Toxic Games

Developer Toxic Games had a few goals with the Q.U.B.E. sequel, and managed to achieve them–mostly. Q.U.B.E. 2 promised a few things—a bigger story element, tighter controls and a finale that will “blow your mind. ” They definitely accomplished their story goals, as both the initial intrigue and reveals more than deliver on that promise. With regards to controls, there’s still some polish issues, though. Some of the puzzles you’ll encounter in Q.U.B.E. 2 are hindered by imprecise controls. Most of the time, pulling, pushing, bouncing and jumping feel fine, but especially where timing is involved, or when there are quick changes, there can be problems.  

Image courtesy Toxic Games

If you’re playing through on mouse and keyboard like I was, switching abilities can feel sluggish with the mouse wheel, making puzzles that require precise timing more difficult. There are also situations where the right actions just don’t quite seem to produce the right results, leading you to think you’ve got it wrong, only to find out you were about a half inch short of the solution half an hour ago if you weren’t struggling with the controls.

Image courtesy Toxic Games

As far as graphics go, as mentioned previously, from lighting and particle effects to textures, most of Q.U.B.E. 2 looks candy coated, but in a pleasingly delightful way. Indoors and outdoors environments are both gorgeous. The only exception to this rule is in the cubes you create and manipulate, which, against the rich textures of everything else in the world, look almost like construction paper stand-ins for something more fitting with their surroundings. Though it’s purely aesthetic, the juxtaposition was jarring enough for me that it feels worth a mention.  

Image courtesy Toxic Games

My initial thoughts on Q.U.B.E. 2 were that it wasn’t doing enough to differentiate itself from things like Portal, and didn’t have enough personality of its own. As I continued to play through, my mind was changed and my thoughts pulled away from the Orange Box favorite. Q.U.B.E. 2 exceeds expectations by focusing on the story, and while pacing seemed a little off at the beginning, it ramps up as the puzzles do, and the story got in my head more than I expected. Toxic Games did a great job taking the feedback it got from the first game and applying it to this sequel, expanding the world in a way that doesn’t seem forced or unnatural. The soundtrack, by BAFTA nominated composer David Housden, is minimal, but beautiful, and enhances the haunting nature of being alone in an unfamiliar world. The voice acting, thankfully, was also top notch.  

Image courtesy Toxic Games

Overall, I found myself pleasantly surprised with Q.U.B.E. 2. The more I played, the more I got lost in the story and world. Though some puzzles had me frustrated, it was never because they seemed unfair. Just about the time I’d be puzzled out and ready to step awy, I’d find another little hint to the goings-on in the world around me and be reinvigorated to continue and unravel the mystery. I felt immersed as Amelia, as if I was in the pages of a sci-fi thriller – lost, alone and trying to find my way back home, not knowing where to turn or who to trust. Were it a novel, I’d characterize it as a real page-turner. To me, this makes Q.U.B.E. 2 more than worthy of a playthrough, for the pure joy of physics-based puzzlers as well as the intrigue of its story.  

Q.U.B.E. 2 is available on Steam, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.  

 

 

A copy of this game was provided to us for review purposes

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